Kyaw Zwa Moe: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy. It is just four days from election today as we film this week’s edition. Voters seem to be eager to cast their ballots, but at the same time they are concerned that power will not be transferred. We’ll discuss to what extent the coming election will be free and fair, and how delicate and complicated the post-election period will be. Today I have invited Tanpadipa Institute director Dr Khin Zaw Win and political commentator Dr Yan Myo Thein to the discussion. I’m The Irrawaddy’s English editor, Kyaw Zwa Moe.
People will be going to polling stations on Sunday and I think it is already too late now to ask the question of if the election will be free and fair. But then, I want to hear your opinion. Do you think the election will be fair?
Khin Zaw Win: Both the local and international communities are interested to see if the election will be free and fair. In the case of the 2010 election, it was notorious for widespread electoral fraud. So, it’s reasonable for people to be concerned.
KZM: What about the possibility of voting irregularities?
KZW: We don’t know what tricks will be used, but surely there will be voting irregularities.
KZM: Ko Yan Myo Thein, how large do you expect these voting irregularities to be? Will the USDP rig the election as much as it did in the previous poll? It is fair to say that media and international observers are stronger than in the past. But then, the USDP and the government and the military have also made preparations. Considering these factors, I am afraid it is not necessary for the USDP to rig the election.
YMT: It is unlikely that the coming election will be as free and fair as the 1990 election and it also will not be as rigged as the 2010 election. I’ve found that the ruling party is trying frantically to win enough seats to elect president to maintain its grip on power. There may be less electoral fraud and unfair practices in major towns that are easily accessible by international and local observers. But then it is difficult for observers to get to rural and remote areas and I believe there will be considerable vote rigging and unfair practices in these places.
KZM: Voters have to cast their vote taking the current situation into consideration. Whether or not there will be electoral fraud is the second question. There is a possibility that the politics of the country will become delicate, complicated and sensitive as of midnight of Nov. 8, I think. The NLD is very strong. Their campaigns are stronger than any other parties. If the NLD wins the election, what will the political landscape of the country look like?
KZW: If the NLD wins a majority, it will have a greater say in determining who will become the president. Our country will have greater prospects if the NLD wins the majority, I think, although positive changes will not happen automatically. But if the NLD wins a majority, it is very likely that it will be able to wield influence in the next five years in the cabinet. It is important that the country gets on the right direction.
KZM: Assuming that the coming election will not be as rigged as the 2010 election as Ko Yan Myo Thein has said, it is possible that the NLD will win a majority. Even if they won’t win 51 percent of seats in the parliament, they may probably win over 40 percent. Under such circumstances, how great is the chance that USDP chairman U Thein Sein and the military may choose to take the path of dialogue? Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said during her rallies that she would form a government that can lead to national reconciliation. So, how large is the possibility? Will the other side accept it?
YMT: Though it is reasonable to assume that the coming election will not be as rigged as the 2010 election, the NLD will still have to go into a really tough competition to win the seats enough to elect the president. To win over 300 seats is a really tough challenge. If the NLD wins, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, as she has repeatedly said in her speeches, will form a coalition government aiming at national reconciliation, I believe.
KZM: The most crucial period is until 22 (this month) after the election, as the outcome of the election has to be released within two weeks. The parliament will resume during that period. So, it seems that serious dialogue is necessary in the post election period—the two, three months after election until February. What are your predictions for how the dialogue will take place?
YMT: I think Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will negotiate with all stakeholders—ruling party leaders, military leaders and ethnic leaders—and work out a political pact.
KZM: To get this, NLD has to secure the majority of the vote first, at least 51 percent of seats.
YMT: For the two houses as the whole, it has to secure two-thirds of the votes—over 65 percent of votes.
KZM: It has to get that amount to have a say (in electing the president). Under such circumstances, it largely depends on the decision of army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and President U Thein Sein. Will they open the door? Previously, it seemed that the door was kept half open and half closed. I mean six-party talks and four-party talks or dialogue…dialogue is crucially important for national reconciliation. Will they accept it (to hold dialogue) easily?
KZW: We are now discussing based on the guess that the NLD alone will be able to form the government. Burma has a history of weak coalition government. But, it is an advantage that there are many parties today. If the NLD wins the majority and proposes forming a coalition and is able to form a strong coalition, it will be an advantage for the NLD. Suppose the NLD wins a majority and proposes forming a coalition, the leadership of the other party (USDP) has to say yes as they will become the parliamentary minority. So, they can’t close the door. The NLD can nominate the president and the USDP has to accept it then, I think.
YMT: It is also possible that NLD does not win the landslide and may form an alliance with ethnic parties, for example the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), Arakan National Party (ANP) or Mon National Party to win a majority—two-thirds of seats in the parliament. I think a coalition of the NLD and ethnic parties will be politically stronger. The ruling party and the military will be more interested to see such a coalition.
KZM: We can’t underestimate the role of military because it has been an established organization for a long time. If the coalition turns out to be too strong and the NLD and other parties take steps leading to confrontation—the military always talks about confrontation and 1988’s events occurring because of confrontation (with military)—and if the military feels it’s a threat, won’t it respond somehow and won’t it lead the country toward the wrong direction?
YMT: As ethnic political parties and the NLD have been constantly assessing the politics of the country as we do, I think they would understand the delicacy and importance of the post-election period. My view is that we have a different situation. In fact, the coming election will be held according to the 2008 Constitution. The Constitution was single-handedly drafted by the military as it pleased. Again, we need to take National Security and Defense Council into consideration. The military may have concerns, but six people on the 11-member council are nominated by the military. So, considering this, the military has no need to be worried much. Again, I believe political parties would take this into consideration and take action that can lead to a political pact and national reconciliation.
KZM: I have a suggestion that many may not expect. These are just my thoughts. In fact, it is easy to establish national reconciliation. We can take a cue from other countries, for example, South Africa where national reconciliation was built swiftly. It depends on the two leaders. Negotiations can be held over a cup of tea. Suppose the NLD wins the election and the USDP does not play many tricks, President U Thein Sein, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing can sit down and discuss who will take the presidency, and who takes the vice-president, setting aside the charter. The military can take its share of parliamentary seats and ministerial posts. Isn’t it possible to do it like this? It is easy to do, isn’t it?
KZW: Yes, it is possible. It is an optimistic view.
YMT: In politics, things change quickly. Sometimes, our guesses may become the reverse. No one knows.
KZM: You mean negative change?
YMT: Both the good and the bad.
KZW: That’s why we need to be prepared.
KZM: People, the majority of voters, expect that the NLD will win a majority. But what will be the response if their expectations do not come true?
KZW: The dissatisfaction or anger of the people will escalate, I think, because they have suffered again and again. The coming election is quite similar to 1990 election. People suffered at that time. If the election results are nullified again, people will explode with anger.
KZM: What do you think, Ko Yan Myo Thein?
YMT: I share the same view as Ko Khin Zaw Win. People desperately want a change of government now because they have been oppressed in different ways since 1962. Drawing a comparison between past five years and present, people have gotten poorer, faced greater hardship and the life has been more difficult. Under such circumstances, if the election does not meet the wishes of the people and fails to bring about the government change which people want, then the democratic reform of our country will face a very huge challenge.
KZM: The Union Election Commission (UEC) and its chairman, the leader of the country President U Thein Sein and the chief of the military which has been constantly engaged in politics of the country. We’ll have to wait and see on election day. Thank you for your contributions.