A crisis unfolded in Myanmar when the military seized power in a coup on Feb. 1, 2021.
Observers made calculations based on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) and failed to notice the role Myanmar’s people were going to play. Myanmar’s military admitted it had not expected such a strong response from the people. The crisis continues to worsen.
The United Nations secretary general and China’s special envoy to Myanmar could not find a quick fix. And ASEAN’s five-point consensus endorsed by China and the US failed.
Clashes have intensified while the economy declines.
People who believe the junta’s policy of annihilation will not work, other countries and people who fear Myanmar will break up if the crisis is not controlled are looking for a solution. One escape route could be the general election which the regime plans to hold next year.
In April, the Chinese and Indian ambassadors separately visited the regime’s Union Election Commission (UEC).
The Indian representative even promised assistance for a 2023 general election.
The two countries are apparently exploring if an election next year could end the crisis in Myanmar. Other countries also apparently share the view.
But we need to review why the 1990 general election provided no solution.
People will say it is because the former regime refused to hand over power to the NLD. The real problem is the regime lacked the will to deal with problems through dialogue and ignored the majority.
Instead of dialogue, the regime chose to lock up thousands of political prisoners.
Some will argue that the 2010 election did not end the crisis. The election itself was not the solution but the actions taken after the election were. The release of political prisoners, the lifting of media censorship, economic reforms and dialogue with opposition leaders helped end the crisis. Myanmar enjoyed relative stability between 2011 and 2020.
Electoral fraud at the 2020 general election is the reason the regime has cited for its coup. But according to the 2008 Constitution, it is the UEC and not the government that is responsible for elections.
So it had to be the UEC to be blamed or prosecuted for mismanaging an election. But the regime has not prosecuted election officials but instead targeted NLD government figures on corruption charges.
It has failed to prove its accusations of electoral fraud.
As to the proportional representation (PR) system which the regime is planning to introduce in the place of first-past-the-post, the Constitutional Tribunal has ruled that it does not comply with the 2008 Constitution. But the regime is prepared to introduce PR anyway, which questions its claim that it will stick to the 2008 Constitution. So we need to analyze the real intention of the military in staging its coup in 2021. And this has called into question next year’s election which the junta will organize under the 2008 Constitution which it has been bending and stretching as it pleases.
What is important is the wishes of Myanmar’s people. Myanmar’s crisis today is the result of last year’s coup and people see the military as responsible.
Thousands died and tens of thousands were detained and countless houses have been torched. People will not accept a military-organized election if the junta refuses to take responsibility for its atrocities. More than 1,000 people were given prison sentences and some 100 face the death sentence.
The regime has also gagged the media. Under such circumstances, no one will believe an election is free and fair.
The regime claims that some 70 percent of lawmakers have stayed clear of the resistance movement.
Some observers asked if their participation in a junta election could resolve the crisis. At present, the NLD central executive committee and the civilian National Unity Government (NUG) have won a certain degree of public support.
It is impossible that those lawmakers who stay clear of the resistance movement will win the public support the NLD’s bodies enjoy. They will not win public support like previous groups that split from the NLD in the past. The “pacifists” will not be able to persuade the people, heal their pain and calm their anger.
Some NLD members indeed prefer non-violent resistance over the armed struggle.
They stick to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s philosophy of non-violence and avoiding street protests. Though they do not publicly share their views on the NUG, they do not appear to accept armed resistance in their minds.
But their problem is that people only chose armed struggle because there was no alternative. And those NLD members cannot present themselves as figures of non-violent resistance without Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. They know that they cannot win public support.
Another problem is that if they choose to contest the junta-organized election while Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other NLD leaders are in jail, it amounts to betrayal.
The NLD boycotted the 2010 general election because Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior figures remained under detention at the time. Furthermore, the charges Daw Aung San Suu Kyi faced under the previous regimes were political. But the current regime has filed corruption charges against her.
Despite the promised election, the regime is rounding up political prisoners and the NLD will not be allowed to operate freely. No election will be free or fair under such circumstances.
Another factor is press freedom. The regime has revoked the licenses of several media groups and jailed dozens of journalists. Independent journalists have been barred from doing their job.
The military wants full control of government affairs. It is not willing to release its grip regardless of an election.
While the military claims it is the only institution powerful enough to introduce “disciplined democracy”, no one trusts an organization that has killed, torched and looted in numerous villages. People distrust anything the military says. Its proposed election is no exception.
Though the regime says it will hold the election next year, it is highly unlikely that stability can be restored in time.
The junta leader’s offer for peace talks has failed to convince most of the ethnic armed groups. And so the regime will continue to fight them and the people’s defense forces (PDFs) which get stronger and are forcing the regime to build pillbox bunkers in Yangon.
The economy is in decline and crime is growing. Muggings are happening in central Yangon. It is hard to see how an election will solve these issues.
Another solution is to release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and hold talks with her. It is not easy though. Under previous regimes, she was arrested on political charges. Her reputation was not harmed.
But the current regime has prosecuted her for corruption. So it is not enough just to release her. The junta has to explain its fabricated charges. The regime will not do that.
And releasing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will not solve the problem. It also has to deal with the NUG and, more importantly, the PDFs.
In the aftermath of the coup, the regime used violence on protesters but now the people show no fear and the regime has committed more violence and reached a point of no return.
The regime might also be thinking of going to the extreme. Some generals are reportedly fantasizing about one-party dictatorships like North Korea.
The regime may choose to rig the election. The UEC chairman due to oversee the election is the same chairman who oversaw the 2010 general election.
To conclude, it is unlikely any 2023 election will end Myanmar’s crisis.