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Friday, March 11, 2016, Falgun 28, 1422 BS, Jamadiul Awwal 30, 1437 Hijri

Challenges of democratization in Myanmar
Published :Friday, 11 March, 2016,  Time : 12:00 AM  View Count : 140

Abu Sufian Shamrat, Amdadul Haque, Rubel Molla, Sadia Afrin, Mohammad Ibrahim, Benzir Ahmed, Naima Sultana and Mukta Jahan
Myanmar is a Southeast Asian country bordering with Bangladesh, China, India, Laos and Thailand. The country always gets top priority to the global and regional powers geopolitically and geo-strategically due to its geographical location and natural resources. In the democratic spheres/indicators like human rights, freedom of media, participation in elections and other democratic practices, the country is mostly ranked below by the western media and human rights organizations. After the independence in 1948, Myanmar was ruled more than fifty years by the military dictators. Among all the failures of the military elites, the country recently won support from the global leaders after arranging relatively free and fair elections in 2015.
After the independence in 1948 from the colonial rule (1824-1948) of Britain, Burmese leaders following British political system adapted parliamentary form of government. But before the maturity of democracy, the country stumbled in 1962 through the military coup d'état of General Ne Win. Through this military control, democracy was suspended up to the recent elections held on 8 November, 2015.
Source: The Union Election Commission, Myanmar
In the recent elections, more than 6,000 candidates from 90 political parties participated. But the main electoral battle was between Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy (NLD) and the military backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). The elections were declared by the national and international media as relatively free, fair and peaceful.
The results of the elections were very crucial in this sense as the NLD captured 80 per cent seats in the elections of 1990 but the results were nullified by the military junta and power was not handed over to the civilian, Suu Kyi led party. Scholars termed Suu Kyi's landslide electoral victory and the willingness to compromise with the military rulers towards the greater interests of the nation, democracy as an important milestone in Myanmar's democratic transition.
Following the consent on the results of the elections and the willingness of military rulers toward elections, political scientists termed Myanmar's shift from authoritarian government to civilian rule as successful democratic transition. Next step after transition comes the phase of democratic consolidation through practising democracy every day and "strong, adaptable and coherent institutions" (Huntington, 1968: 1). From the experiences of the 'Third Wave' (Huntington, 1991) of Democratization, the journey of democracy in the transition era does not become sound and peaceful. However, current piece of write-up is an attempt to visualize crucial challenges what democratic transition in Myanmar will be facing in the path of attaining consolidation.
Firstly, Article 59(f) of the constitution of 2008 banned Suu Kyi to take oath as the president of Myanmar for marrying a British citizen and having two children who have British citizenship. Burmese political experts believe that Suu Kyi may select a loyal puppet president to her. If it happens, the military may express their dissatisfaction towards the Government because they arranged the constitution in an intentional way to refrain Suu Kyi from becoming the head of the state and Government and giving force leave from politics. The constitution also gives unlimited power to the military as it controls three important ministries which are the ministry of defence, home affairs and border affairs. Twenty five per cent seats are also reserved for the military in the Parliament. In these situations, if the civilian government tends to amend constitution to exercise power and make Suu Kyi the president, it is impossible because the constitutional amendment procedure is designed in a rigid way and military is given veto power to the crucial decisions made by the civilian government. The constitution is also designed in a way that serves interests of the military in every sphere. As a result, despite getting majority in both houses, democratic transition will be seriously challenged by the endemic control of the military junta.
Secondly, due to long-term stay in power, the military has extensive control over the bureaucracy, judiciary and other constitutional institutions. In modern states, without extending hands of cooperation from civil administration and other bodies, democratically elected government cannot formulate its policies and actions according to the needs of the citizens. This cooperation also extends from community based organizations to the general masses. However, from the experiences of the 'Third Wave', it can be argued that if this non-cooperation exists, democratic transition in Myanmar will be a nightmare.
Thirdly, long lasting peace is a precondition for nation-building in the democratic transition period. There are approximately 135 ethnic communities in Myanmar and different ethnic groups are fighting the central government with the demands of a federal government or autonomy. A comprehensive ceasefire agreement with a view to ensuring peace is urgent to the ends of successful democratization. If nationwide ceasefire agreement does not see the face of light, democratization is likely to fail manufacturing nation-building or national unity.
Finally, participation in all spheres of state activities without distinction of colours, races and religions is sine qua non for democratization. More than 500,000 Rohingyas in the Rakhine State could not exercise their voting rights in the elections of 2015 but they had participated in the polls held in 2010 and 2012. Democracy and participation go hand in hand. Thus participation creates sense of belongingness among the citizens of a state. However, if the civilian government cannot include this huge number of people in its everyday tasks, the democratization movement will remain unfinished and serve the interests of the majority such as the Buddhists who number around 80 per cent of the total demography.
Keeping all the challenges in mind, it can be argued that the journey of democracy in Myanmar has a long road to consolidation/maturity. It is clear from the above analysis that in Myanmar the military is more powerful and active than the civilian elected personnel through various structural arrangements. Democratization will then come into light when all the challenges are met peacefully, cooperatively and mutually. If the civilian government fails to meet the challenges, Burmese people will have to face another new episode of military rule.
This write-up is an outcome of the collective discussion amongst the members of Political Science English Adda (PSEA) on "Challenges of democratization in Myanmar." The writes are the members of PSEA, University of Dhaka

Editor : Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury
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