””

The Straits Times says

Avoid brute force in Myanmar politics

In a democracy, a fallout between two powerful and ambitious leaders over the country's political direction would be considered normal. Typically, such a dispute would be settled by the ouster of one of them, with the defeated leader biding his time, in party wings or the wider national landscape, to make a comeback.

However, the dramatic showdown between Myanmar President Thein Sein and his archrival Shwe Mann belongs in a different political category altogether. For a tentative democracy such as Myanmar's, this month's battle of wills between the two men bodes ill for the country's evolution from a military-dominated nation, where might is right, to one where law emerges not from superior force but from the power of public opinion. Regression to the habits of the past would be regrettable, given the advances that Myanmar has made, both internally and in international support for it, since its break with political autocracy and economic isolation.

Admittedly, the ousted Mr Shwe Mann had tested the porous boundaries of political reform with his ideas and gestures. Although a military man himself, he had favoured a faster transition to full democracy - a stance that had drawn him close to Myanmar's iconic democrat Aung San Suu Kyi.

Elements in the military establishment, which enjoys both de jure constitutional authority and de facto power on the ground, reacted with fears of marginalisation that resulted in armed police bursting into the headquarters of the ruling party and ending Mr Shwe Mann's chairmanship of it. Such shows of brute strength reveal how fragile some parts of Myanmar's political edifice are, even as the country heads into its first free elections in 25 years this November. Although the military-drafted Constitution bars Ms Suu Kyi from becoming president, her party is expected to do well in the polls. Perhaps it is its possible closeness to eventual power that unnerved the more defensive members of the military. But they need to understand that the results of the popular will have to be respected once the democratic process has begun. Strong-arm tactics merely delay the inevitable.

The outcome of the political showdown has important economic implications for Myanmar. International investors base their decisions not only on a country's natural and human potential, but also on whether its political system enjoys sufficient depth and stability to underpin and sustain economic transitions. Investors would hardly be enticed by the spectacle of jousting leaders depending on police trucks in the middle of the night to decide on who calls the national shots.

Asean stood solidly with Myanmar when others ostracised the country because of its intransigent political economy. Yangon's neighbours would hope that good sense will prevail at this sudden moment of unsuspected instability.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2015, with the headline 'Avoid brute force in Myanmar politics'. Print Edition | Subscribe