Ever since the elections in November 2010, the news coverage has delivered more positive than negative headlines. Change is in the air, but so far the country still finds itself just on the way to change rather than in the actual process of implementing democratic principles.
Burma is heading for by-elections on April 1st, where 48 in constituencies will be contested – a small share of the 600 parliamentary seats. Still, this is the first chance for the National League for Democracy (NLD) and Aung San Suu Kyi to contest in an election ever since the country has been starting to implement democratic principles and moving away from the military run dictatorship towards a civilian government (little side note: the NLD boycotted the November 2010 elections).
Change does not happen over night though, and holding (flawed) elections has not seen the big impact so far. But, it was a start. President Thein Sein has shown good intentions to collaborate with the opposition, has held talks with Suu Kyi and fostered dialogue and peace negotiations between the government and ethnic groups. His reformist actions are welcomed, though the transformation of words into actions is still lacking.
The media was given more freedom and the public more access to it over the last few months, though it is still far from being open. People maybe enjoy now the access to social media sites, like Facebook and Youtube, but the more important informative sector of the media, e.g. newspapers, political channels, are still monitored and in certain cases censored. A recent speech on the NLD campaign given by Suu Kyi, shown on a state-run TV station, was censored and edited by the government before officially broadcasted.
Recent news from Burma has been mostly positive though. Western countries are reconsidering and lifting some sanctions that have been in place for decades now. As in recent posts mentioned, political prisoners have been released and given the chance to re-join the political arena, e.g. the comedian Zarganar.
But, not all is bright and shiny in the country. The military forces of the Burmese government are still involved in clashes with the ethnic minorities. Although peace agreements are negotiated and about to be signed, the news of casualties and armed assaults in regions, such as the Kachin state, are still ever-present in the papers. The human rights record is still awful, lacking of fundamental rights and the intentions to improve it are questionable. Worrying is also the news of cases that recently released political prisoners were taken back into custody for questioning indicating a fragile situation of societal security.
The icon Suu Kyi is faced with a fundamental predicament now. The transformation from an icon for democracy into an active politician is a tough challenge. Can she deliver what the people expect?
She finds herself in a position that needs a delicate act of balancing. Western governments trust her more than the actual government; the country is squeezed between two competing economic powerhouses, India and China, longing for Burmese resources; the people expect her to improve and change the status quo in her country; and as an advocate of democracy, human rights and liberalism, she needs to use the means provided by these principles to balance the interest of the stakeholders; and there are more pressing internal issues on the table, e.g. the drug trafficking problem. A big agenda is waiting to be dealt with and Suu Kyi (fair enough though, the NLD is not just one person; but the aspirations of the Burmese population are widely connected with the name of The Lady) has to prove that she can deliver (at least parts) because if she fails to do so what will happen then?