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Myanmar votes for change, Suu Kyi elected to Parliament

Posted On April 4, 2012

The credit for the unfolding changes, orderly but slow must go as much to Suu Kyi’s willingness to be conciliatory as to the strong man Thein Sein, who has ushered in the enabling environment in Myanmar

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Poreg View: Finally, the decks are cleared for Aung San Suu Kyi to play her role in shaping the destiny of Myanmar. Her landslide win, and victory of her party National League for Democracy (NLD) in 43 of the 44 open seats in the by-elections held on 2nd April is a vote for change. The election was free and fair by all means.

The credit for the unfolding changes, orderly but slow must go as much to Suu Kyi’s willingness to be conciliatory as to the strong man Thein Sein, who has ushered in the enabling environment for change.

Yes, the NLD’s will be a small presence in the Naypyidaw parliament – a house of 440-members and the military dominates directly and indirectly. The army backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, holds 348 seats. But we should remember that what we are witnessing today in Myanmar’s legislature was unthinkable even two-three years back.

The NLD has contested an election for the first time since 1990 and Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for the past twenty years, was enabled to stand in the by-election, after all the disqualifications that were flung at her have been removed. So, numbers don’t matter but the willingness to hear each other and play according to the established rules of consensus based on thorough debate. In the final analysis, Parliament is always a talking shop.

The victory gives the NLD leader the opening she needs to move to the centre stage from the margins and raise her voice forcefully. The military is willing to listen to her reason. And there is no doubt about. Suu Kyi, on her part, is willing to work with the regime and is stressing the need for reconciliation and national unity. In her victory speech, Suu Kyi said it is not so important how many seats (we won) but the fact that the people are so enthusiastic about participating in the democratic process. She hoped the by-poll verdict would usher in a ‘genuine democratic atmosphere’ and speed ‘national reconciliation’

For her a priority is amendment to the constitution to make it a little more democratic. But she cannot afford to be seen as a leader in a hurry. Long years of detention have taught her the art of patience. This is clear from her advice to NLD workers: ‘No exuberance in poll victory celebrations’.

This mood augurs well, though it brings up the inevitable question: what next? Much would depend on how the democracy icon plays her cards. Next general elections are not due till 2015. This gives her enough time to plan her moves carefully and in a calibrated manner. Her every move will be keenly watched at home and abroad since Myanmar, the poorest South- east Asian nation is opening up to the world even as it is courted by  the Big Brother next door and the far away Bigger Brother, who has a vested interest in the region.  

Over the next few days and weeks, there will be move towards lifting of sanctions, first by the European Union and then by the United States. The European Union will take is decision later this month after a formal review of the Myanmar scene.

It is eminently possible that the regime may give Suu Kyi either a formal or informal role in furthering the interests of the country. She has the stature for such an assignment. Since real-politic and pragmatism characterize her every post-release move, she may accept the offer. Not necessarily immediately though.

How her influence will shape Myanmar’s foreign policy will be interesting to watch from New Delhi since she has reasons to be upset with its policy of working with the junta for the past decade or so. India’s policy perspective was (is) guided by the realism that it cannot neglect its own neighbourhood and that it should not interfere in the internal affairs of neighbours. India’s foreign policy stands apart from other regional and even global players because it would like to see every nation’s domestic agenda to shape up without outside interference.  

Put differently, India subscribes to the belief that democracy cannot be exported from outside and it must spring up from deep inside. Being a champion of democracy herself, Suu Kyi may have appreciated the robustness of the approach.

A visit by Indian Prime Minister to Yangon is long over due. Plans for Manmohan Singh’s visit to Myanmar’s capital are being firmed up. Pakistan has taken a stolen a march in this respect; President Asif Ali Zardari has visited the home of Aung Saan Suu Kyi and presented her with the Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Award for Democracy

—m ramarao

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