Interview

Pundits’ Takes on Myanmar’s 2020 Election

By The Irrawaddy 30 October 2020

Bertil Lintner has written extensively about Myanmar’s armed conflicts, politics and ethnic strife for nearly 40 years. He was Myanmar correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review from 1982 to 2004, and now writes for Asia Times.

He has written several books on Myanmar including “Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma’s Struggle for Democracy”, “The Rise and Fall of the Communist Party of Burma”, “The Kachin: Lords of Burma’s Northern Frontier”, “Land of Jade: A Journey from India through Northern Burma to China” and “Burma in Revolt: Opium and Insurgency Since 1948”. He occasionally writes for The Irrawaddy. Here are his views on the upcoming election.

What are your thoughts on Myanmar’s upcoming general election in November, and what differences can we expect between this and previous ones going back to 1990?

The 1990 and 2015 elections should be seen as referendums, where the NLD stood for the hope for a better future for the country, while in 1990, the National Unity Party (NUP) represented the old order, and in 2015, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) was the “new” representative of the same old order. It was a “yes or no” kind of vote where all other political parties became irrelevant. There was a third element as well, in 1990, as well as in 2015: the ethnic factor. Ethnic parties did well in 1990, less so in 2015. But this time it’s different. The NLD has lost support among the ethnic minorities and from the urban middle class. This makes the final outcome hard to predict. And even if the USDP does badly, we have to remember that a quarter of all seats in both houses of the Union Parliament as well as local assemblies is reserved for the military.

Many international observers fear that the November election will not be free and fair, citing disenfranchisements and campaign restrictions. However, on the ground, voters and parties alike are still quite enthusiastic and active. What would you say?

I don’t think so. It is, of course, unfortunate that elections have been suspended in several constituencies, primarily in ethnic areas. But, by and large, people seem to be enthusiastic about voting.

If the NLD wins enough seats to form the government, what can we expect for post-election Myanmar given the 2008 Constitution and the military’s involvement in politics?

It would be hard to change the Constitution even if the NLD wins. More than 75 percent of all MPs have to vote in favor of any change of important clauses in the 2008 Constitution and with the military controlling 25 percent, forget about it. And, contrary to what some people think (“It needs only one soldier-MP to change sides”), soldiers are soldiers and they obey orders. They don’t vote individually and in accordance with their conscience.

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