Overhyped Elections in Myanmar?

The world rejoiced after Myanmar election officials announced the victory of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and her party National League for Democracy in the recent by-elections in the country. NLD remains a minority in the Parliament but its landslide victory inspired many citizens who are hoping for the country’s full transition to democracy.

But according to some netizens and political observers, the euphoria over NLD’s victory must be tempered by the fact that the junta-backed party is still the dominant force in the local politics. This was echoed by Fifty Viss:

The elections didn’t change the scheme or the pace of reforms. Perhaps the most important outcome was that the NLD and Suu Kyi were specifically accommodated so they would contest the elections (laws were amended so they would participate). I also thought the speed with which the Union Election Commission announced results was surprisingly fast. Results for most constituencies were available within a day.

The author isn’t surprised why NLD was allowed to succeed in the polls:

But these numbers are just a drop in the water. The fact that by-elections went to smoothly was simply because so much rides on this particular election, especially the coveted prize of abolished sanctions from the West. If the NLD had won any less, it would have cried foul and unleashed a storm of criticism. It is obviously in the government’s best interests to ensure NLD’s victory.

Even some citizens feel that Suu Kyi is being used by the junta to legitimize its rule:

The feeling of many in the overseas Burmese community is that Suu Kyi is being used as a pawn to legitimize the authority of the current government, plain and simple.

Wagaung comments about the game plan of the junta:

Some of us see their game plan from the start. Some are simply in denial, a small victory served on a platter reinforcing their desperate optimism. There are others who never accepted the sanctions as positive in any way. The international business class of banks and corporations typically sees it as a large untapped market of vast natural resources and cheap labour. The carrot and stick approach of the West never loses sight of the former’s interests.

Shan Herald explains why the recent electoral exercise was called by some people as ‘sell-elections’:

The by-elections, which was dubbed by some as “sell elections,” meaning they were held for the purpose of selling to the international community the idea that Burma has turned over to a new leaf (better still, that the tiger has all of a sudden become vegetarian), have prompted several comments from Burma observers, both at home and abroad.

Apart from the apt choice of All Fools’ Day to hold them, which have naturally given rise to the inevitable question, “Who is Myanmar out to fool this time?,” there are some facts that I think are of major significance:

The said elections were not so much about whose policies the people support and which candidates they like. It was rather a fight between the three sacred institutions: that of the Old Guard, One Dominant Personality and Ethnicity.

The ‘old guard’ refers to the government-backed party; the ‘dominant personality’ is Aung San Suu Kyi; and ‘ethnicity’ is the Shan Party.

Street celebration after Opposition candidates were declared winners in the by-elections. Photo from dawn-1o9

Street celebration after Opposition candidates were declared winners in the by-elections. Photo from dawn-1o9

dawn_1o9 shares her observations during election day:

Yesterday, I went to Mingalar Taung Nyunt with a few of my friends to watch the vote-counting. Mingalar Taung Nyunt is one of the townships in Yangon where the by-election took place.

My township wasn't included in the election process so I came and watched at another township.

There were such a crowd near the poll stations. It was just like there was a festival!

ClimbUpTreesToLookForFish is happy with the results:

So overwhelmed with hope and love for the people who have waited so long for this day to come. I am holding on hope that we are indeed out of the woods, and onto the fair and just path to democracy.

Here’s a report from an election monitoring team:

A soldier from a battalion, based in Lashio, says his freedom to exercise his right, like others in the unit, was forfeited when his superiors took the responsibility to tick his ballot paper.

One SNDP monitor commented that many Shans don’t have ID cards, because they used to be expensive and also many Shans didn’t think they need to go anywhere outside Lashio. “Now that the IDs are cheaper, about 5,000 kyat, and we need their support, the people must be encouraged to obtain ID cards from now on,” he said. “On the other hand, ethnic Chinese, both native and alien, are buying ID cards at more than 100,000 kyat each. This trend will grow, if it is not kept in check.”

The Asian Network for Free Elections suggests several electoral reforms:

Large discrepancies in the voters’ list, attempt to misuse official machineries at the village and district levels by some ruling party candidates, lack of voter education all added to the list of apprehensions, which puts a question mark on the efficiency and management of the electoral process.

Moreover, despite the presence of international observers irregularities still occurred. This indicates the importance of a full-fledged and well-prepared “independent” international observation mission in 2015 general elections.


  • “The feeling of many in the overseas Burmese community is that Suu Kyi is being used as a pawn to legitimize the authority of the current government, plain and simple.”

    Such words are never said by genuine public. Those words even become a cliché used by those Myanmar refugees in first world country whose citizenships are not “Myanmar” any more. If Myanmar is open up, no one would support them and their relatives won’t be able to join them any more. That is why they, including huge organisation like Burma Campaign UK, keep on saying so while they are selling postcards signed by Aung San Suu Kyi with huge bucks for funding though they are nothing related to NLD nor Aung San Suu Kyi.

    Locals there do understand gaining 40+ seats is “nothing” compare to whole parliament which is mainly run by former army generals. Being said, it can still be considered as very first step.

  • […] La victoire d’Aung San Suu Kyi aux élections, le sort du peuple Rohingya et la visite officielle du Président Barack Obama dans le pays, voilà ce que retient la communauté internationale de l’année 2012 au Myanmar. Bien sûr tout cela est incroyable et Global Voices s’en est fait l’écho et a traduit la réaction des internautes à ces évènements et ces problèmes. Mais quand on fait l’inventaire de tous les articles publiés l’année passée, on peut aussi dire que 2012 a été une année de manifestations au Myanmar. […]

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