As it seems, The Lady has emerged victorious; Daw Aung San Suu Kyi ran a successful election campaign and won the by-elections by a landslide. According to the first news coverage from inside Burma, the National League for Democracy (NLD) has won 40 or more out of the contested seats in parliament and therefore humiliated the proxy party of ruling military government, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Definitely a success but the official confirmation by the government is expected not earlier than in a couple of days. Yet the Union Election Commission already announced on the state-run MRTV that the NLD has won 40 seats. Given the fact that the USDP will not really cease power, as the share of the contested seats compared to the size of the whole parliament is fairly small (approx. 7%), it is very likely that they will admit this defeat – even more considering the issues, that you will further read about in the sections below.
The US, the EU, ASEAN and other countries all over the world closely watched the election. Reported irregularities have to be confirmed but also seem to be negligible as the outcome is still a huge success for the NLD. Considering irregularities, the estimated results so far seem even more impressive. Suu Kyi herself stated that she wants these irregularities investigated and clarified in order to improve the electoral system until the next elections in 2015.
But what now? What will the near future of Burma look like? No one knows of course but there are some speculations and predictions that I further will elaborate on in a two-part article. The topics will be the ethnic divide, the resource curse, democratic progress and process and sustainable democratic leadership. Today I will start with the first two topics as mentioned above.
The minorities living in the Eastern part of the country – the Kachin, the Karen and the Shan – have been in longstanding clashes with the Tatmadaw (the Armed Forces). The Shan and the Karen have only recently signed ceasefire agreements with the newly sworn in civil government (which is still very much run by Army officials) and are still in negotiations with this ruling power about the future of their combined efforts to live peacefully together. The Kachin minority is still actively involved in warfare with the Armed Forces and therefore, the elections in constituencies in this part of the region have been postponed due to security concerns.
Some of the people of other than the Burmese ethnicity still have doubts about Suu Kyi. She is from the same ethnicity as most of the Army, the ethnicity they have been clashing with over decades. Suu Kyi will face tough opposition in this part of the country, although during the election her party came out victorious also in this part of the country and seemed to even beat the local Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP). Still, for Suu Kyi it will be very challenging to find a path that pleases the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the ethnic minorities, still keeping her own NLDs agenda in focus. Her prospects of reaching peace agreements and deals with this part of the country as well as the international society see higher chances of success than deals with the Generals – therefore it is advantageous for President Thein Sein and his comrades that they will have Suu Kyi in parliament and in an official position.
Burma’s geostrategic position can become a curse or a blessing in the future. Right in-between the two economic powerhouses China and India, rich in valuable resources and underdeveloped banking and finance sectors, Burma’s landscape appears as one big Dollar bill to the big economies. The US has of course taken notice of this and therefore has maintained closer diplomatic ties with the governing elite of the country ever since the slight breeze of change has blown through the resource rich ports and mountains.
China has always seen Burma as its resource rich backyard and therefore invested heavily in infrastructure and “friendship” during the last two decades. It felt like a slap in the face, when earlier this year the Burmese halted the construction of a huge dam project in the Northern part of the country, intended to deliver energy to the Southern province of Yunnan. China now tries to recapture the invisible hand over Burmese leadership and resources. Too much is at stake and US interference is not taken well anyway in “domestic” affairs (just remember the South China Sea and Taiwan for example).
Still, US and EU prospects to ease sanctions that have paralyzed economic growth and development over last decades are more appealing than cooperation with China these days. Some argue that the prospect of sanction-free economic cooperation with the West is one of the main reasons that Suu Kyi got the chance to run in this election. The close ties of Suu Kyi with the West and her westernized views of democracy and liberal freedoms might have urged the Generals to let her run in the by-elections. As barter they will get more economic freedom and likelier chances of enhancing their wealth. President Thein Sein is aware of this situation, and therefore “To woo Washington, Thein Sein must curry favor with Suu Kyi.”
Interesting thought and reviewing the changes we have seen lately in the country, it seems a legit consideration. The President has so far shown two faces. One where he pleases his negotiating parties, another one where he does not stick to his promises. It is going to be thrilling to observe and monitor the developments and economic performance of Burma and the biggest stakeholders to be in this new Asian Tiger economy. Who will it be? The US, China or India – or ASEAN (as a proxy of the US maybe?)? We will see soon.
Fairly short elaborations on topics that will become pressing issues in the near future. Stay tuned and stop by tomorrow for the second part of the article. Cheers!