Asian Editors Circle

Myanmar: A year after the Nov 8 polls

On Nov 8, the United States will host an intriguing election.

As the date draws closer, the results of the election appear harder to forecast.

In previous weeks, the likelihood of a victory by US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton appeared almost certain.

However, after the FBI revealed new (but incomplete) findings on Mrs Clinton's e-mails, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has closed the gap in many of the latest election polls.

American democracy has been a model of fairness for over 200 years. Free and unbiased elections are the hallmarks of a democracy, giving citizens an opportunity to be heard.

On Nov 8 last year, a historic election was held in Myanmar which was of interest to many people around the world. This was an election in which the military dictatorship was willing to give power to the people of Myanmar for the first time since 1962.

The people of Myanmar had high hopes for this election because it was the first time the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party that won a landslide in the 1990 election, was returning to the ballot box.

However, there were growing concerns that the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) - the ruling party that includes members of the military who rejected the 1990 election results - would not host free and fair polls.

Although the people of Myanmar are disappointed with Ms Suu Kyi's (above) government so far, they are still hopeful things will improve. PHOTO: REUTERS

There was also the worry that the USDP would not authorise a smooth transition to power in case the NLD won.

More doubts were fuelled as U Tin Aye, the chairman of the election committee, had close ties to the then President, Mr Thein Sein.

This being so, in the lead-up to the elections, political analysts at both home and abroad had difficulty in predicting the electoral outcomes.

Most of the voters surveyed in the rural areas said that although they did not know much about politics, they did not like the ruling USDP government. Rather, they wanted to vote for the NLD because it was led by their mother figure, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Consequently, because the ruling government did not rig the results of the election, the NLD won 82 per cent of the 400 seats in Parliament, while the USDP won less than 10 per cent.

Worries over the smooth transition of power were also quelled after members of the NLD attended the first parliamentary session and consequently formed the executive in April this year.

Although the Constitution could not be amended to allow Ms Suu Kyi to become president, she was given the title of State Counsellor and became the de facto leader of the government.

Many people thought that the major hurdle would be the smooth transition to power but the real problems arose after the NLD formed the government.

A year after the historic election last year, the public is disappointed by the NLD's policies and principles. Despite several peace talks, the conflicts within the country have escalated over the past few months and gunshots are now being heard in previously peaceful areas.

In northern Rakhine state, in the predominantly Muslim areas, violence and extremism have resurfaced.

Across the country, commodity prices have increased at an alarming rate and inflation is in the double digits. The government has been largely unable to tackle the problem of growing income inequality.

Demonstrations and protests have occurred in numerous places and for a variety of reasons.

The NLD has also failed to tackle corruption and crony capitalism that were prevalent in the previous government. Citizens have become disappointed with the close ties that some members of the NLD have formed with crony capitalists.

The newly elected NLD officials' rosy relations with corrupt officials from the previous bureaucracy are grave concerns of the Myanmar people.

On social media, stories have circulated about a newly elected minister, making just US$2,500 (S$3,500) a month, being seen wearing a US$100,000 Patek Philippe watch.

For many Myanmar people who make just US$2 a day, this is a source of great disbelief and resentment.

The individual who allegedly gave this "gift"? to the elected minister was recently released from jail after serving time for his involvement in a drug case. After the NLD came to power, this individual's project to build a new city received approval.

Still, one year after the election, although the government has shown despicable behaviour, many of the Myanmar people are still hopeful that change will come. And they are optimistic that the government will delegate responsibility and power.

Elections are just one component of a democracy. The Myanmar people have still not tasted the full flavour of democracy, which includes the rule of law, a fair judicial system, and clean governance. The relative quietness and acceptance by the Myanmar people of these pressing issues are a source of great astonishment.

There is great anticipation about the US election on Tuesday.

In a similar vein, a year after the election of Nov 8 last year, the people of Myanmar are still anxiously waiting for the reforms that the NLD government promised and the perceived celestial powers that they believe Ms Suu Kyi is capable of wielding.

We are still hoping.

We are still waiting.

  • The writer is CEO of Eleven Media Group, Myanmar, and a board member of the Asia News Network (ANN ). This is a series of columns on global affairs written by top editors of ANN members and published in newspapers across the region.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 05, 2016, with the headline 'Myanmar: A year after the Nov 8 polls'. Subscribe