Jakarta/Brussels, 27 May 2010: Twenty years ago today, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party swept Myanmar’s elections, but the army refused to allow the results to be implemented. Later this year Myanmar will vote again in a process certain to be seriously flawed but whose results and the constitution to be brought into force will redefine the political landscape, influencing opportunities to push for long-overdue social, economic and political reforms.
The Myanmar Elections ,* the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, updates recent developments and includes an analysis of the electoral legislation issued in March 2010. It also provides a timeline for implementation of the new constitutional structures after Election Day, including the formation and initial functioning of the new national and regional legislatures.
“It seems very likely that the vote will go ahead without any moves by the regime to address concerns”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group’s South East Asia Project Director. “The new political structures make it unlikely that any single individual will be able to dominate decision-making in the way that the head of government, Than Shwe, has in recent years”.
The balloting will take place in the framework of the new constitution, adopted in 2008. That document, which will come into force following the elections, will entrench military power by reserving a quarter of the seats in national and regional legislatures for the army and by creating a powerful new national defence and security council controlled by the commander-in-chief, who receives control of key security ministries and other extraordinary powers.
The top leaders, Generals Than Shwe and Maung Aye, will step aside after the elections, making way for a younger generation of military officers. Although they may continue to wield significant influence behind the scenes, the reins of power will be in new hands.
Given restrictive provisions of the 2010 Political Parties Registration Law that bar anyone serving a prison term from membership in a political party, many imprisoned dissidents will be excluded from the process, unless they are released in the near future. Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner whose suspended sentence and house arrest possibly exclude her also, has condemned the legislation; her National League for Democracy (NLD) decided not to participate and consequently has been deprived of its status as a registered party.
The current electoral legislation is in most respects almost identical to the laws governing the 1990 poll, including provisions that led to a broadly fair count. There has rightly been much international criticism of the new constitution and of the fact that the elections will not be inclusive, but the political and generational shift that the elections will bring about may nevertheless represent the best opportunity in a generation to influence the future direction of the country.
“The elections will be characterised by a campaigning period that is highly controlled and far from free, but the voting on Election Day may well be relatively fair”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group Asia Program Director. “Such a scenario presents important challenges, as well as opportunities, to domestic stakeholders and to the international community”.
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*Read the full Crisis Group report on our website: http://www.crisisgroup.org
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The International Crisis Group (Crisis Group) is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation covering some 60 crisis-affected countries and territories across four continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.