BURMA/MYANMAR: The world must support Myanmar’s fledgling democracy

An article from Hong Kong Free Press forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission

The people of Myanmar have once again spoken, and spoken very loudly, of their wish to return to democracy for the first time since 1962. One of Asia’s longest-lived military dictatorships has again been told by the people to leave, so they can be allowed to rule over their own affairs.

The people of Myanmar have affirmed their faith in their leader Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, by giving them a landslide victory. The results for the whole country have not yet been revealed but those already announced clearly indicate such a victory for Ms Suu Kyi’s NLD.

In 1988, the people expressed the same wish, by giving an overwhelming victory to the leader and her party. On that occasion, the military disappointed the people, and the entire world, by refusing to respect the people’s mandate and by holding on to power against the will of the people. In the process, the military junta imprisoned Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and many of her colleagues in the NLD. The suppression of people’s freedom continued in all areas of life.

Naturally, there was resistance from the people themselves and protests from many governments around the world. The military finally gave in to such pressures and, in recent years, enlarged the space for people’s participation.

However, the military has continued to harass Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and the members of the NLD, declaring that she is not eligible to hold the presidency of the country. Despite all such restrictions and continued repression, the people have once again used the power of the ballot in order to affirm their faith in democracy and in their beloved leader.

It is encouraging to see that President Thein Sein quickly congratulated Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and her party for “gathering the support of the people”.

What this situation demonstrates is the futility of repression against the wishes of the people for democracy. All these long years, the military have used every form of repression. However, the people, for their part, have used every opportunity available to them to demonstrate their disapproval of the military.

The only result of the long years of military rule is the complete breakdown of every aspect of life in Myanmar. Despite the potential of the country in terms of the many natural resources available, Myanmar has been severely impoverished during the period of military rule. All aspects of its infrastructure are in ruins, while many of the neighbouring countries have been strengthening their capacities.

It is in these circumstances that the people will now expect the peaceful handover of power to the new government. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has already expressed her wish to meet with the President and with the Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the Commander in Chief of the Defence Service, as well as the Speaker of the House, Shwe Mann, stating “that it is crucial for the dignity of the nation that the people’s will demonstrated in the election result of November 8th, be truly implemented in a peaceful manner”.

The new government faces many difficult problems. Two of the most pressing tasks are to rebuild the country’s education and health sectors. The long years of neglect have left these sectors in an extremely backward state.

As the election results slowly emerge, the repression continues of around 150 students who peacefully protested last year against a retrogressive education law and policy. Many of the 150 are still in prison in extremely poor conditions, having being denied bail; their unjust trials are making their way at a snail’s pace through an utterly corrupt “justice system”. Some of them are currently on hunger strike, demanding that the authorities drop the charges and release all political prisoners.

Perhaps the most difficult task ahead for the new government is to dismantle the existing “justice structure” which, in fact, has been developed as an instrument of suppressing the people’s rights, including their property rights. Behind a thin façade, the judiciary, directly peopled and controlled by the military, is rigged. The entire system of administration of justice will need to be redesigned in order to ensure the possibility of a system where the rule of law functions.

All this means that the new government and the people of Myanmar will need massive support from the international community. Recent years have shown some improvements in investment to assist the development of the economy in Myanmar. However, there has hardly been any development of the social infrastructure. It is in this area that international assistance is most needed.
It is to be hoped that the international community will rise to the occasion and support the people of Myanmar at this very crucial moment.

The views shared in this article do not necessarily reflect that of the AHRC.