WORLD NEWS

Myanmar’s election on Sunday: Why It Matters

Mar 30, 2012, 10:53 AM

Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) – Myanmar’s special election Sunday is for a small portion of parliament seats, but has taken on immense symbolic importance because it will likely see pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi win her first term in office.

The elections represent a key step for national reconciliation after more than two decades of bitter struggle which set the ruling military against a pro-democracy movement led by Suu Kyi and which turned Myanmar into a shunned, pariah state with stunted development.

Though the seats up for grabs are relatively few, the stakes are high for both the military-backed government, which wants to emerge from international isolation, and for Suu Kyi’s camp, which wants real democracy. The vote also sets the stage for an even more important election in 2015.

Here’s a look at Sunday’s polling, the players and what’s at stake:

THE ELECTION:

Candidates are vying for 45 seats in the 664-seat parliament that have been vacated since 2010 general elections, which were boycotted by Suu Kyi’s party. The government has invited a limited number of international observers to observe the latest polling, hoping to boost its democratic credentials. Suu Kyi, running in an impoverished district south of Yangon, has alleged widespread irregularities in the run-up, but has vowed to go forward with her candidacy.

THE MILITARY:

The country’s former military rulers _ known for violently suppressing any uprisings _ nullified a 1990 election victory by Suu Kyi and kept her under house arrest for much of the following decades. They engineered the 2010 elections to usher in a nominally civilian governement while ensuring that the military retained power, for example, by reserving at least a quarter of parliament seats for the military. Foreign observers were barred from that vote; a military-backed party won.

Now firmly entrenched, the country’s rulers have a strong interest in promoting a more democratic stance, to placate international critics. The government hopes to earn a lifting of economic and political sanctions by the U.S. and other Western nations, so that Myanmar can enjoy the benefits of the global economy.

It can afford to allow Suu Kyi’s followers to win seats in the parliament, because those up for grabs amount to less than 7 percent of the legislature, and wants Sunday’s vote to appear to go as smoothly as possible.

The government of President Thein Sein has launched a series of reforms _ the freeing of political prisoners, the opening of a dialogue with Suu Kyi. Washington has promised to upgrade diplomatic relations, but wants to see free and fair elections before it grants further rewards.

SUU KYI:

Suu Kyi and her political party came out of the 2010 election with poor prospects because of its boycott. Two decades of struggle against fierce repression had given the party the moral high ground but drained its energy.

Then, Suu Kyi was finally freed from house arrest, rejuvenating her pro-democracy movement while she herself _ in her mid-60s _ has shown signs of fatigue in campaign appearances that have drawn large, enthusiastic crowds.

Suu Kyi was supposedly loathed by the former military leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, who stepped down after the 2010 elections. But she says she trusts Thein Sein and his promise of a kinder, gentler Myanmar.

She has acknowledged that her party will have no substantial power even it if wins all 45 seats that it is contesting, but hopes to give voice to the “aspirations” of the people.

Thein Sein’s government needs Suu Kyi’s participation because of her prestige in the international community as standard-bearer for Myanmar’s democracy movement whose courage won her a Nobel Peace prize. She commands considerable influence on policymakers, especially in the United States.

To woo Washington, Thein Sein must curry favor with Suu Kyi.

THE FUTURE:

Both sides are playing for future benefits, but the path seems clearer for the military: Provide enough democracy to keep Suu Kyi in line and satisfy Western nations so that they drop their sanctions, and use the anticipated inflows of investment to jump-start the economy.

Critics fear that Suu Kyi could become marginalized or co-opted in parliament. But if her party plays by the government’s rules, it could provide the party’s long-suffering organizers the kind of breathing space they never before enjoyed.

Suu Kyi has said repeatedly that the party will work outside the legislature as well as inside. Many of the country’s best-known pro-democracy activists, released from prison under Thein Sein’s amnesties and unbowed by their incarceration, have vowed their support for Suu Kyi.

If the party can rebuild itself, it can mount a campaign for a general election in 2015 that could pose a real challenge to military-backed rule. Whether the military allows a victory by Suu Kyi and her supporters in that vote _ or squashes the result, as it did in 1990 _ will be the true test of its commitment to democracy.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

World News

President Joe Biden walks towards members of the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn...

Associated Press

U.S. military airdrops thousands of meals over Gaza, many more airdrops expected

U.S. military C-130 cargo planes dropped food in pallets over Gaza on Saturday in the opening stage of an emergency humanitarian assistance.

2 days ago

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who reportedly died in prison on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, i...

Associated Press

Alexei Navalny, galvanizing opposition leader and Putin’s fiercest foe, died in prison, Russia says

Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin, died Friday while incarcerated, the country's prison agency said.

17 days ago

Britain's King Charles III and Queen Camilla leave The London Clinic in central London, Monday, Jan...

Associated Press

Britain’s King Charles III has cancer and is receiving treatment

Britain's King Charles III has been diagnosed with a form of cancer and has begun treatment, Buckingham Palace announced Monday.

28 days ago

A resident flees an encroaching forest fire in Vina del Mar, Chile, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. Officia...

Associated Press

At least 46 reported dead in Chile as forest fires move into densely populated central areas

Intense forest fires burning around a densely populated area of central Chile have caused at least 46 deaths, Chile's pesident said Saturday.

30 days ago

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with a payload including two lunar rovers from Japan and the United Arab ...

Associated Press

Unmanned Japanese spacecraft successfully makes soft landing on moon

Japan became the fifth country in history to reach the moon when one of its unmanned spacecrafts successfully landed on the lunar surface.

1 month ago

Associated Press

Israeli Cabinet approves cease-fire with Hamas; deal includes release of 50 hostages

Israel’s Cabinet on Wednesday approved a cease-fire deal with the Hamas militant group that would bring a temporary halt to a devastating war.

3 months ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

...

Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Valley residents should be mindful of plumbing ahead of holidays

With Halloween in the rear-view and more holidays coming up, Day & Night recommends that Valley residents prepare accordingly.

Myanmar’s election on Sunday: Why It Matters