Commentary

Whoever Wins the Election, the Country Must Be the Winner

By Kyaw Zwa Moe 6 November 2020

I cast my early vote today. It was the first time since my return from my 13-year exile in 2013. Straight away, you might feel like asking me: “Do you feel happy or dutiful?”, “Which party did you vote for?” and so on. No, I have no answers for those. What I’m obsessed about is whether our country will be the true winner in Sunday’s poll. 

After the election on Nov. 8, the party that gets the most votes will be the winner. In this political climate, the ruling National League for Democracy led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is undoubtedly going to be that party.

In the previous election in 2015, the NLD was also the winner, forming its own government and running the country since then.   

The NLD’s victory was seen as the people’s victory because it defeated the ex-generals’ Union Solidarity and Development Party, which the majority of the country’s 55 million people disliked. Today, they still dislike it. 

That’s just a fact, but not the point I want to make here. Though the NLD won and runs the country, over the past five years Myanmar hasn’t solved its most pressing problems—the civil war and the constitutional crisis. Both problems involve the powerful military, which ruled the country for five decades. With these two issues stagnant, the NLD government is seen as politically incapable, though there are still many who express satisfaction with its performance. 

Some observers and stakeholders think these chronic problems continue due to the weakness or incompetence of the NLD government, meaning the government lacks capacity or tactics. There might be truth in that, but it is not the main reason. 

Actually, solving these problems depends totally on political will. If we take the Constitution issue as an example, everyone can see that the military doesn’t want the 2008 Constitution amended. That’s the main reason the NLD’s attempt to amend it, coordinated with ethnic parties, failed to make it through Parliament over the past two years. All military representatives appointed by the military chief said “No” to the attempt. It showed that the military collectively has not even the slightest bit of political will in this direction. 

The civil war, or ethnic conflict, fought mainly between the military and various ethnic armed groups over the past seven decades, is incomparably complex. Different stakeholders definitely have different agendas.   

That conflict has made it “valid” for the military (at least, as far as it’s concerned) to continue to stay in the political arena, as their own Constitution guarantees. The military’s official line is that they won’t leave the political arena as long as the ethnic armed groups exist. 

Under these circumstances, the NLD or any new government in the next five years won’t be able to amend the Constitution to reduce or end the military’s political involvement. It’s an endless cycle of political problems. 

Thus, there is no guarantee that the winning party, whether it’s the NLD or any other party, will be able, after this election, to solve these two main political problems in the next five years. So, I think the winner will really need a new approach to get started in order to solve, or at least reduce, these problems after the election. 

Just two days before election day in 2015 (the election was also on Nov. 8 that year), I wrote an opinion piece headlined “A Reconciliation Agenda Should Follow Sunday’s Poll”.  

“As a priority, Burma’s new government in 2016 should promote national reconciliation—without it, key issues will go unresolved and the country is unlikely to move forward. As a guiding principle, the winning party should acknowledge that they cannot govern the country alone; collaboration across ethnic and party lines should be sought,” I wrote.  

The NLD government after 2015 tried in a way to make good on this. At least, the government appointed some ministers from the USDP and kept some high-ranking officials from the previous government in their new government too. It reflected what Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said at a final press conference just before the 2015 election: “Even if we win 100 percent, we would like to make a government of national reconciliation in order to set a good precedent for our country. It shouldn’t be a zero-sum game where the winner takes all and loser loses everything.”  

Today, after five years of her tenure, she must understand it hasn’t really worked. 

So, if her party wins again in Sunday’s poll, she and her NLD must come up with a new approach which will work with different stakeholders, mainly the military. Without the military’s willing participation, the main political problems facing Myanmar will not be solved in the next five years either. 

Recently, the military commander-in-chief openly criticized the government—and even the President himself, as if the head of the armed forces were equal to the head of state. When the government officially responded to his criticism, the military officially retorted with strong language and a sharp tone. That tit-for-tat between the government and the military, which would be so unusual in any other country in the world, is typical here.  

 It will go on unless the winner of the upcoming election or the next government comes up with a new approach to convince those who might even lack political will to solve the country’s biggest problems in the next five years. If that happens, the country will be the winner and its people will benefit.  

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