No date for this year’s general election has been set. No campaigning is allowed yet. Political parties must still go through the process of being approved to run in the election, and voter lists still have to be drawn up for each and every polling station in every constituency.
Yet in many ways the election has already started. The incumbent Thein Sein government has made a great show of pledging to bring peace to the country by signing a nationwide ceasefire agreement with armed groups ahead of polling day. Meanwhile, ethnic parties have been forging coalitions – forgoing old grudges in the common interest of presenting the region’s electorate with a united front as an alternative to the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party or Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD).
However, many question marks hang over the holding of democratic elections in November. First and most significantly, the ruling party has taken great steps to prevent Suu Kyi from winning the presidency, dredging the country through years of legislation effectively aimed at barring her constitutionally from contesting the position. She is also barred from a vice-presidential position, which rules out any notion of her sharing the VP role, presumably alongside either military strongman Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing or current House Speaker Shwe Mann.
President Thein Sein has never hinted that he may seek a second term, though he is entitled to under Article 61(c) of the Constitution. It is unlikely he believes that the USDP can win an open election fairly and squarely. The NLD – for all its lack of commitment to parliamentary politics during its tenure as opposition – is surely still favourite to achieve a landslide, especially once The Lady and her public relations team get on the campaign trail.
Which leads to the question: if the USDP cannot win a free and fair election, will it simply hand over power or will it cheat? Or, will it postpone the election under the guise of “national security” or a “state of emergency”? Perhaps the simmering conflicts in the Kachin, Shan and Kokang regions could all be wafted to produce enough flames that Naypyidaw could push for the postponement of polls on security grounds?
On the other hand, many analysts will argue that the Thein Sein administration has gone too far in its commitment to reform, and that a reversal in democratic progress would be seen widely as a slide back towards the dark days of the military junta. They will point to Burma’s commitment to ASEAN, to the World Bank, the ADB and other international financial institutions. They will point to the debts, the obligations and the business contracts that the country must fulfill.
Then again, perhaps with the 25 percent of military seats already on their side, the USDP believe that they can capture power democratically? Or even if they lose, maybe they can afford to share power with the NLD for five years.
What do you think? DVB would like to hear from you, our readers – firstly, about whether you believe the general election will go ahead as planned this year. Furthermore, we would like your opinions about how you see the political game playing itself out. What is the most likely scenario? Who will emerge victorious? Will the election – if it takes place – be free and fair? Will Burma see a political transition, a power-sharing coalition or a return to military rule?
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