Something historical is happening in Southeast Asia, and I wonder how many of us in the west have noticed? By us I mean the typical westerner going about their daily lives concerned with only the things they see and encounter around them — what affects them. Certainly the politicians know what’s happening, with the possible exception of Donald Trump maybe. Even the TV news agencies seem to be giving the event a few seconds in between or after the latest headlines from the Middle East and the US Presidential election/marathon.
What is this event? The nation of Myanmar, for 50 years under military control till 2011, is currently counting the ballots from their first free national election in 25 years. This is news! Can you imagine how the people must feel? The idea that they could actually have a say in who governs over them must seem like a dream given their history. And now, here they are, choosing, as it appears, the National Liberation for Democracy Party led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
This would be the same Aung San Suu Kyi who was detained under house arrest from July 1989 till November 2010. The same Aung San Suu Kyi who while still under arrest, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding by the government of India and the International Simón Bolívar Prize from the government of Venezuela in 1992, was made an honorary citizen of Canada in 2007 (Yay Homeland!), was awarded the Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Award For Democracy from the Government of Pakistan in 2012, and the Congressional Gold Medal which is, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States. And, even more incredibly, she chose to remain in the country while her husband was dying from terminal prostate cancer, fearing she would be refused re-entry had she left not trusting the military junta would allow her to return, even though she had been urged to leave the country to visit him.
And yet with all of the awards and personal sacrifice, the constitution of her country, which she deems to be very silly, bars her from serving as either president or vice-president. And this provision, or more like, safeguard for certain interests, cannot be amended without the approval of at least one military legislator. And here’s the rub, the military is still very much in the picture, which is to understate the situation as they are in fact the ones who wrote the constitutional provision in order to preserve its power.
After the polls close, the newly elected members and the military appointees (note the term) will propose three candidates for president. The other two will become vice presidents. That won’t happen till February, and a lot can happen between now and February.
And it gets better. The military are guaranteed key ministerial positions — defense, interior, and border security. The military is not under the government’s control and could continue as they have for decades, even retaking direct control of government and the economy should they see fit.
Major issues remain with religious and ethnic tensions among the Rohingya and Buddhist nationalists and the question of how much of a role the military will continue to play even though they have stated that they will accept the results. But the people still have hope. This is the free-est vote in a long, long time. Many people believe that because of “Mother Suu,” as she is affectionately referred to, “things will change,” and that “she will do her best for the country.” And while the constitution will not allow her to be the visible “leader” of the nation, she has vowed to be the power behind the new president.
The people have spoken, and are still speaking. Let’s hope this is the beginning of real change for the people of Myanmar / Burma.