Myanmar’s Lack of Civilian Political Space

By The Irrawaddy 3 April 2023

The decision by the National League for Democracy (NLD) not to register under the new electoral law drafted by the Myanmar military is a decision to stay away from junta’s proposed general election. Millions of Myanmar people expected that decision from the NLD, and many say that the NLD again made the right choice.

Myanmar’s junta-controlled Union Election Commission (UEC) last week announced that the NLD and 39 other political parties would be dissolved, after failing to adhere to a deadline to re-register under the regime’s restrictive new electoral law.

Under the existing law, the NLD and other dissolved parties are no longer legal political parties. However, it is believed the NLD will continue to function and that its members and supporters will face more arrest and harassment. The NLD has survived under challenging circumstances before and the party is expected to do so again.

The fact is that whether deemed legal or illegal, the NLD will remain a serious political force in the country and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now 77 and in jail, will remain an influential figure. The NLD was disbanded before and then allowed to re-register when the country was opening up, and it went onto win landslide victories in the 2015 and 2020 general elections.

Similarly, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) party also made a decision not to register with the regime-controlled UEC and so is no longer a legal political party. However, the SNLD still enjoys substantial support from Shan people across the country. The NLD is not alone in its principled decision not to participate in the military regime’s sham politics.

But more political violence and confrontation is expected in Myanmar, which has been in crisis since the 2021 coup. Already, the conflict has displaced more than one million people.

The regime’s decision to disband the NLD and other parties has already made the junta’s proposed election even less credible.

If an election is held, it is likely that the majority of people inside the country will not participate in it or accept the result and neither will the international community. The regime’s election will only be an attempt to restore ‘legitimacy’ to prolong military rule. Myanmar has gone back to the pre-2010 period, when the previous military regime ruled, but this time things are going to be much worse.

The Myanmar military has no desire to allow space for civilian-led politics. The road to negotiations is closed on both sides.

The irony is that the military-drafted 2008 constitution granted the military a quarter of all parliamentary seats and three ministerial portfolios along with other special powers, privileges and immunity from prosecution for human rights violations.

But the military was always afraid of losing its power, privileges and right to govern or ‘guardian’ the country when civilian political parties like the NLD had much more support. It was for that reason that the junta staged the 2021 coup, declared the 2020 general election invalid and announced plans to hold a new poll under newly-drafted electoral laws.

The military would have enjoyed more respect if they had decided to work with the NLD after its 2020 election victory, instead of staging a coup.

Now, though, Myanmar people look on the military with deep disgust and regard them as murderers, rapists and thugs. The criminals who rule Myanmar today have no intention of giving up power. That makes their proposed election even less credible and makes it likely that the country’s crisis will deepen and that violence will increase.