Myanmar/Burma's 2015 elections: Democracy at last?

28-10-2015

Twenty-five years ago, Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD party won an overwhelming electoral victory, only to be denied power by the SLORC junta. The 2015 elections give the party and its leader a second chance to end decades of direct and indirect military rule. In the absence of opinion polls it is impossible to reliably predict the results. While the NLD is widely seen as the likely winner, the incumbent USDP party, closely linked to the former junta, and ethnic parties will probably win substantial minorities. The 2012 by-elections are an encouraging precedent, raising hope that elections in 2015 will be considerably fairer than in 2010. It is however unlikely that they will be completely transparent and credible, among other things due to the large share of the population excluded from voting. With one quarter of parliamentary seats filled by military appointees, the NLD needs to win two thirds of elected seats in order to command an overall majority. Failing this, it will have to form a coalition, possibly with the ethnic parties. On the other hand, with military support, the USDP only needs to win one third of elected seats to stay in power. The newly constituted parliament will then elect a president, who in turn appoints the new government. With Nobel and Sakharov prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi constitutionally excluded from the presidency, no obvious alternative has emerged. A victory for the opposition would be a major step forward for democracy. However, difficult reforms will still be needed, and a military backlash cannot be completely excluded either, potentially repeating the tragic events of 1990.

Twenty-five years ago, Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD party won an overwhelming electoral victory, only to be denied power by the SLORC junta. The 2015 elections give the party and its leader a second chance to end decades of direct and indirect military rule. In the absence of opinion polls it is impossible to reliably predict the results. While the NLD is widely seen as the likely winner, the incumbent USDP party, closely linked to the former junta, and ethnic parties will probably win substantial minorities. The 2012 by-elections are an encouraging precedent, raising hope that elections in 2015 will be considerably fairer than in 2010. It is however unlikely that they will be completely transparent and credible, among other things due to the large share of the population excluded from voting. With one quarter of parliamentary seats filled by military appointees, the NLD needs to win two thirds of elected seats in order to command an overall majority. Failing this, it will have to form a coalition, possibly with the ethnic parties. On the other hand, with military support, the USDP only needs to win one third of elected seats to stay in power. The newly constituted parliament will then elect a president, who in turn appoints the new government. With Nobel and Sakharov prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi constitutionally excluded from the presidency, no obvious alternative has emerged. A victory for the opposition would be a major step forward for democracy. However, difficult reforms will still be needed, and a military backlash cannot be completely excluded either, potentially repeating the tragic events of 1990.