Myanmar democracy on hold as parties scramble for power: The Nation

Myanmar's main opposition party, the National League for Democracy led by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, is facing an internal revolt.
Myanmar's main opposition party, the National League for Democracy led by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, is facing an internal revolt.PHOTO: AFP

Suu Kyi's opposition has sidelined democratic allies, prompting growing concern over November's milestone election

By Htun Aung Gyaw


November's general election is being hailed as a milestone for Myanmar democracy, but an undemocratic scramble on both sides of the political spectrum does not bode well for the country's future.

Myanmar's main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), is facing an internal revolt over its decision to choose candidates who are not supported by regional party organisations.

Meanwhile the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)'s dilemma over its candidate for next president has been ruthlessly solved by military intervention.

Though President Thein Sein has played no part in campaigning, the military has stepped in to nominate him as a presidential candidate and oust his only serious rival, Shwe Mann.

The top brass enshrined their right to select a presidential candidate in the constitution they drafted in 2008.

The remaining two presidential candidates will be nominated by the upper house and lower house respectively, before an electoral college made up of MPs votes in one as president and the others as vice presidents.

Myanmar's constitution does not allow the people to directly elect their head of state.

When the opposition NLD recently announced its candidate list for the November 8 election, many were shocked to discover that prominent pro-democracy figures such as Ko Ko Gyi of the 88 Generation group and feminist independent MP Nyo Nyo Thin were not on the list.

The 88 Generation has been at the forefront of the democracy movement from Day One, but the NLD rejected 17 of the 18 potential candidates from the group.

Moreover the NLD central executive committee ignored the candidates voted for by its members at township and division level, preferring a centralised nomination process. That decision triggered protest and even resignations among local NLD leadership and members.

NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi underscored the message by announcing that citizens should "Vote for the party, not for the person".

In other words, people should trust in the candidates the central committee has chosen, even if those individuals are not supported by the grassroots and have little political ability.

Not surprisingly, many party members, supporters and activists were dismayed by Suu Kyi's overbearing manner.

Ko Ko Gyi responded by declaring he would not run in the coming election as he did not want to split the pro-democracy vote.

Instead he and his group would form a political party to run in the 2020 elections. Nyo Nyo Thin says that she will run in November as an independent candidate but would continue to support the NLD.

Ko Ko Gyi and Nyo Nyo Thin share a vision to change the system by combining democratic forces. In contrast the NLD sees other democratic forces as rivals rather than as allies.

Suu Kyi might be seeking to emulate Singapore strongman Lee Kuan Yew in controlling the nation with a heavy hand, but that strategy is unlikely to succeed.

People are now fed up with the dictatorial attitude in politics, and want a leader who better reflects their wishes.

Meanwhile house speaker Shwe Mann has fallen foul of the top brass after he criticised military members of parliament for voting down proposed changes to the 2008 constitution that would have weakened their grip on power.

The military ousted Shwe Mann as USDP chairman earlier this month, apparently angered that the vast majority of men it had put forward as election candidates had been rejected by the party.

Another likely motivation for the purge was the strong rumours that Shwe Mann and Suu Kyi have made a deal to share political power and have joined hands against President Thein Sein and the military in a bid to win the election.

Though the upcoming election is crucial for democratic forces in Myanmar, its main opposition, the NLD, appears uninterested in forming a collective leadership against the military generals.

Instead, concern is growing that its aim is to forge compromise with the generals and form a coalition government in partnership with Shwe Mann.

The democratic forces rejected by the NLD are now planning to form a third political party after November's election. Army chief General Min Aung Hlaing has given his backing to President Thein Sein.

This suggests that two camps will be competing for power in the election - one led by Aung San Suu Kyi and Shwe Mann and the other by President Thein Sein and the army chief.

Democratic principles seem to have taken a back seat as both sides gear up for a fierce battle against their rivals and also within their own ranks.

The November election conjures up comparisons with Eastern European states in the wake of the fall of communist totalitarianism.

Yet, unlike the newly elected leaders of those countries, an NLD government won't be able to change the system or fulfil the democratic desires of the people.