5 April 2012
2012 By-elections: the R
egime’s Tool for Legitimizing Disguised Democracy
Burma held by-elections on 1 April 2012 to fill 45 vacant parliamentary seats. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi andcandidates from her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) contested for all 45 seats and won 43out of 45 available seats at the parliaments. Comparing with the General Elections in 2010, April 1 by-elections were held in a freer and fairer manner and in a much more transparent environment. However,series of irregularities in the pre-election period, and the unprecedented strategic shifts of the governmentand the military days before and after the by-elections point out that
Burma’s road to democracy ahead is
long and bumpy, and a possibility of U-turn at the end.
As a leading opposition pro-democracy party that has secured the overwhelming public support for the pasttwo decades, the election victory of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy is notsurprising. The NLD contested in two out of three elections held since 1990 and won majority seats in bothelections, May 1990 and April 2012.
The NLD’s by
-election success will be honoured and accordingly theNLD representatives including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will have their first opportunity to participate in the
legislative affairs. Nevertheless, the
NLD as a minority party with a fraction of seats at theparliament is likely to face enormous challenges to meet its political objectives such as the restorationof the rule of law, amendment of 2008 constitution, and building national reconciliation.
Therefore, it iscrucial that the international community takes well-calculated measures and responds to the ongoing process.The pre-election irregularities reveal that the government had a systematic plan to prevent the NLD winningmajority seats until it announced invitations for international witnesses but not observers to verify thecredibility of the elections. Obviously,
the government is in desperate need of legitimacy for itsdisguised democracy. Therefore, the planned electoral fraud was withdrawn, and the by-election wasused as a tool for international recognition of its reform process and subsequent termination of existing sanctions.
While it is doubtful that whether the NLD representatives will be able to achieve itsintended goals of three primary objectives, between
400 to 1,000 political prisoners remain in the prisonsacross the country losing their hopes for freedoms. The conflict in Kachin state remains critical, andthe ongoing cease-fire deals with other ethnic nationalities are in a fragile situation.
Since the democratic future of Burma is extremely uncertain and in the hands of the ruling ex-generals,
theinternational community must not impede the liberalization process by maintaining its essentialmeasures of the existing sanctions.
Although certain measures that might help build up a truly independentcivil society and development of the country in terms of health and education and poverty alleviation arewelcomed to be lifted,
the withdrawal of measures such as restricting investment in governmententerprises and natural resources extracting are not encouraged.