NEXT FOUR MONTHS WILL TEST WHETHER DEMOCRACY WILL WORK IN MYANMAR

by Alan Nichols

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Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on her visit to Dandenong in Melbourne in November 2013.

Just before Christmas 2015, within weeks of the November 8 election win for the National League for Democracy, several significant events formed a prelude to the recall of Parliament in Myanmar and the implementation of the election result.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, chair of the NLD which won 80% of the seats in the national vote, had a meeting with religious leaders, including the Anglican and Catholic archbishops. In a country with a large Buddhist majority, this was unusual, especially as the Christian churches are more active in the ethnic areas on the borders.

She also conducted training over several days for the newly elected Members of Parliament, some of whom had been in prison for 20 years and were only recently released. This workshop covered what democracy is, how Parliament works and how government operates.

In the week of January 3- 10, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Burma, at least the fourth trip he has made to the country. He met with Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  No details have been given, but journalist Daniel Pye in The Irrawaddy news service speculated that talks could pave the way for a ‘governance initiative’ Blair is considering establishing in Burma.

Both Houses of Parliament have approved an amendment to Burma’s election laws requiring a by-election within six months of a chamber seat being vacated. This applies to regional legislatures as well as both Houses of the national parliament. The amendment has yet to be approved by President Thein Sein, before becoming law.

On January 12 a Union Peace Conference has been called by the President, with 700  full-fledged participants and 50 observers, all from ethnic minorities in response to their demands. Discussions include ethnic minorities’ demands for constitutional reforms, federalism and greater autonomy from the central government. The conference to be held at the national capitol Naypidaw, will run to January 22.

Aung San Suu Kyi is still forbidden from being eligible for President because her sons have foreign passports, but many commentators speculate that the military government led by the current president still has the power to change this before the current President’s term expires on March 31.

The Irrawaddy news service comments: ‘Backed by a stunning mandate, Suu Kyi is the rightful leader of the country and has repeatedly said that, regardless of her official position in government, she would act as leader.’

The world now waits to see how and what might happen.All commentators say that the atmosphere within Myanmar is hopeful and optimistic. But events in the next two months will be indicators of whether this hope is justified.

 

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