Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Messages From Myanmar #06

Messages From Myanmar #06
11 November 2015

Photo Update Alert:
  American Center Yangon

Election Update

Hello there… Rodger French here.

On Sunday, 08 November 2015, voters in Myanmar went to the polls in the country’s first meaningful election since 1991 (the results of which, you may recall, were infamously annulled by the oppressive military regime that has ruled Myanmar since 1962). This year, 80% of eligible voters showed up to cast their ballots for the military-backed ruling party (USDP), the opposition party led by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi (NLD), or dozens of smaller parties.

By all accounts, the balloting proceeded in good order, with caveats, of course. In some areas still blighted by civil conflict, voting was simply suspended for security reasons. And in Rakhin State, local government, supported by Buddhist extremists, systematically disenfranchised tens of thousands of Muslim citizens. But the election was nonetheless a historic event, one with a momentous and not unpredictable outcome.

[Constitutional Sidebar - In 2008, the military, in an attempt to stack the deck, made revisions to the Myanmar constitution detrimental to the NLD in general and Aung San Suu Kyi (aka “The Lady”) in particular. The Fix, as they say, was in:

Fix #1. The Tatmadaw (military) will retain, automatically and without need of bothersome elections, 25% of all legislative seats.

Fix #2.  The ministers of defense, home affairs, and border affairs are to be drawn from the ranks of the Tatmadaw, and they will report directly to the commander in chief of the armed forces.

Fix #3.  Anyone who has a spouse or children who are foreign citizens is disqualified from holding the office of President. Let’s call this “The Lady” clause.]

So… since the NLD has apparently won more than 67% of the seats that are actually up for grabs (and current projections run as high as 80%, a veritable landslide), according to the law they can form a government and select a President, though not Aung San Suu Kyi, since her late husband and her children held/hold British passports (see Fix #3). She could become President only through a constitutional amendment.

But… since the constitution also specifies that any amendments require approval by a legislative majority of 75% (meaning ALL seats not held by the military), it is not possible for Aung San Suu Kyi to assume the presidency in 2016. Thus does the Tatmadaw, who are every bit as clever as they are avaricious, plan to maintain a grip on control.

However… “The Lady” has repeatedly stated that when the NLD assumes power, she is going to be in charge and “above the President.” I, for one, do not doubt her. Decades of oppression by the Tatmadaw have served to make her both sympathetic and one tough cookie. She is brave, smart, and a canny politician. What’s most important, however, is the fact that the overwhelming majority of voters believe in her and want her to be their leader, even if she cannot be actual head of state.

And she is wasting no time, having already reached out to the USDP and the military to begin talks on reconciliation. There’s a fascinating and dynamic state of politics in play here. The new legislature will begin selection of a President on 01 April 2016, so the next few months are going to be immensely engaging. It is an exciting time to be an American expat in Yangon.

In case you’re wondering, Anne and I spent Election Day at the American Center, which hosted an election theme party for several dozen young people, some of whom had just voted for the first time. (YES!) It was great fun and everyone seemed in a positive frame of mind, hopeful that this time real change would result from people exercising their franchise. This has been a long time coming and, for what it’s worth, I think they’ve got a shot.