Commentary

A Quick Peek Into 2021

By Kyaw Zwa Moe 1 January 2021

Before extending you all my well wishes for the New Year, let me share my quick peek into 2021: for our world, vaccines are on the way; in my country, Myanmar, an elected civilian government is preparing to begin an unprecedented second term; in the United States (and to the relief of the rest of the world), a refreshingly normal president will soon enter the White House and show the door to a decidedly abnormal one.

Happy New Year!

My peek ahead is just that: a glimpse of three key developments to come. But these three achievements represent the best things we humans did in 2020, while coping with a deadly virus—saving humanity (the entire world), holding on to a political vision (Myanmar), and reasserting a grip on political normalcy (the United States).

Those were among our accomplishments in 2020. It was a tough year—up there with the worst in recent times. But sometimes the worst experiences offer the best lessons in life, provided we are willing to learn.

In 2020 the world proved that even deadly COVID-19 can’t hinder people’s political vision and determination. How did we get through 2020? I believe we overcame its challenges through patience, resilience, positive thinking, faith, responsibility, empathy and adaptability.

We have all been stuck at home, travel having ground to a virtual halt. But people the world over kept walking through the long night of 2020. Let me recall what I wrote in May about COVID-19: “The only thing to do is to keep walking, even if it’s dark, but with imagination and determination. Sooner or later, the sun will rise. And if you can manage a good night’s walk, you will be the one who benefits when things return to normal.” Now we can see light at the end of the tunnel, as vaccines are on the way to our countries.

In the US, American voters managed to reverse the colossal mistake they made in 2016, voting out the dreadful and disgraceful administration of Donald Trump. As I wrote in anticipation last year, with his removal, I now believe that “America’s democracy will be as attractive as it once was.”

As for the people of Myanmar, in 2020, while they may have been confined to their homes, they took another essential step in their collective political journey along the path of reform. Of the country’s 38 million voters, the vast majority cast ballots in favor of continuing the political transformation from military to civilian rule their country embarked on in 2011. The landslide victory by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) in the recent election in November 2020 was actually a victory for the people of Myanmar.

Many people are sure to see this as the biggest success story in an otherwise dismal year. So far, every attempt to make a comeback by those guys who used to run things, and who have always been against the people, has failed.

The term of the incoming NLD government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will be just the second by an elected civilian government in Myanmar. This development reflects the fact that the country’s electoral process has functioned without disruption since 2011. When President U Thein Sein began opening up the country in 2011, the optimism it created went hand-in-hand with anxieties that the new political openness might turn back at any time, given the nature of the old establishment and its affiliated anti-democracy groups. That uncertain feeling that the old rulers could make a comeback has maintained its grip to a certain degree over the past decade.

But back-to-back election victories by a pro-democracy party (the NLD also won in 2015) have begun to relieve people of that worry. The country is enjoying relative political stability, compared to the nightmare of nearly five decades of military rule (1962-2011).

What a journey we made in 2020, without traveling anywhere! Well done, responsible citizens of Myanmar!

In 2021, however, Myanmar will face some familiar challenges as well as some unexpected ones, just as we did in 2020 and in earlier years.

Now it is the NLD’s turn. Showing enormous trust, the people have elected it to again serve them. The whole party, from its leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi down, must do so with loyalty and dedication.

We’ve seen political opportunists, as well as corrupt and incompetent ministers and other high-ranking officials, join the current NLD government since it was formed in 2016. People have found it hard to bear those irresponsible and even foolish authorities and their wrongdoings, but they tell themselves it is Myanmar’s first civilian government with no experience of running the country, and facing a huge responsibility: to overhaul a ruined nation.

As a result, in this coming term, people’s expectations may be higher but in some respects more realistic. As the top leader of the ruling party and incumbent government, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will be under scrutiny from the outset, with all eyes on her choice of cabinet members and high-ranking officials for the new government.

Picking the right persons for the right positions will be a crucial starting point for her and the NLD. There are many lessons to be learned from their first tenure. The party can’t afford to repeat the mistake I pointed out in an article titled, “Myanmar’s Ruling NLD Must Address its Achilles’ Heel: Choosing the Wrong People”.

In recent days, we have heard that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party’s senior members are scrutinizing potential candidates for ministerial and other high-ranking positions. Hopefully, they won’t disappoint voters and the entire population the way they did in their previous tenure.

2021 should mark the beginning of a new stage in the country’s political progress. Now with another landslide election victory under its belt, the NLD really needs people-oriented political strategies and approaches.

Many of the same old issues remain to be solved—finding a way to stop the ongoing conflict between the military and ethnic armed groups and attain permanent peace, amending the undemocratic Constitution to reduce the priviliged role of the military in politics, containing the spread of COVID-19 and acquiring vaccines for the public, and many others.

As before, politically, the most difficult tasks will be the peace process and constitutional amendment. On that topic, I wrote an analysis piece, “Civilianizing This Militarized Nation Could Take Another Three Decades”. My view on this hasn’t changed since the 2020 election, and things will stay more or less the same as long as the military leadership remains unwilling to see themselves back in the barracks where they belong.

But there are positive signs. We’ve seen frequent developments and more meetings among stakeholders in the peace process; continued efforts could yield a breakthrough at any time.

The coming five years will give the elected civilian government more opportunities to tackle the country’s most deeply rooted problems and to make more progress on the economic and social fronts. For Myanmar, this is still an era of reconstruction. We need to stay focused on continuing to rebuild our ruined nation.

Just as COVID-19 hit us out of the blue in 2020, nobody knows what new problems will emerge this year. We have no choice but to expect the best while preparing for the worst. With all of our human strengths and abilities, let’s face it all—the old and the new, the good and the bad—together in 2021.

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