The Path Forward for NLD Post Elections
5 April 2012: (Opinion) Burma’s democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi will be joining a parliament that is still overwhelmingly controlled by the military-backed ruling party after her National League for Democracy’s landslide victory in the closely-watched by-elections.
As a party that holds just over six percent of the parliamentary seats, it will be interesting to see how the NLD will navigate through the complex political maze within the military-created new and untested political institutions in the coming months, while also trying to address some of the most difficult issues facing the country.
The results of this weekend’s by-elections were not surprising given Thein Sein’s government’s willingness to have Aung San Suu Kyi in parliament, which was aimed at adding legitimacy to the military-backed political institutions. In addition, Thein Sein’s administration is desperately hoping to reap rewards for allowing NLD’s landslide electoral victory –The goal being an easing of harsh international sanctions imposed on the long pariah state by United States and other Western countries and to prove that they are ready and eligible to chair ASEAN in 2014.
As the NLD prepares to enter parliament, they need to pay close attention to what people expect of them. The NLD needs to recognize that the great April One Victory is just a first step towards the country’s democratic development and stable future. Championing the ‘rule of law’ is important in a country that has long experienced the misrule of law, but more important for Burma now than ever is the need to champion the ethnic cause, if there is to be genuine and lasting peace.
Aung San Suu Kyi has made it clear that she is ready to assist in whatever capacity she can in the national reconciliation process, ‘if she is offered’ the chance. This rhetoric must now be translated into actions, now that the NLD will have a presence in parliament. It is also in the interest of NLD to be seen as championing the ethnic cause, for without resolving the ethnic issue there can be no sustainable peace in Burma.
“Change is coming to Burma at a rapid pace” is becoming a common expression in describing the situation in that country. But it is important to note that the change has so far been only on the military’s terms. Little emphasis has been given to the fact that the current constitution is not in line with democratic principles.
The ongoing debate on Burma should not lose sight of the fact that under the 2008 constitution the military appoints 25 percent of lawmakers. This body of un-elected lawmakers in the parliament plus military supremacy principle embodied in the existing constitution can undermine any effort towards genuine democratic reforms.
Thus, it is important that he NLD party work hard towards making substantive amendments to the constitution, to enable crucial changes that can truly sustain the nation in the long run. For a party that has only less than seven percent, this will be a hard game for Aung San Suu Kyi and her group in the parliament. But given NLD’s public legitimacy, both domestic and international, the party needs to go beyond what’s ‘acceptable’ within the current structure and push the envelope.
In this respect, the NLD must recognize that their by-elections victory is only one first positive step towards Burma’s uncertain and difficult path. The NLD can begin this difficult journey by proactively reaching out to the ethnic forces, both in parliament and outside, as well as those in the governing party, and speaking out more on the ethnic issue.
By Khen Suan Khai