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Published on Dec 1, 2015
The National League for Democracy (NLD) victory in Burma/Myanmar’s election this month is certainly an historic milestone, but it is the peaceful acceptance from the military and its politically-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) which must be truly celebrated. A marked difference on what happened in 1990. The democratic transition over the next few months and years will be difficult, and it is important that the European Union offers all advice and support where appropriate and necessary. But much power is still vested in the National Defence and Security Council, which is outside of the elected government’s control.
The military still retain 25% of reserve seats in the parliament, and Aung San Suu Kyi’s moral victory as leader is somewhat undermined by her bizarre legal inability to take office as President as the late wife and mother of British citizens. So keeping the roadmap to democracy on track will be a challenge. There are also concerns as to the plight of the minority Muslim Rohingya people in Myanmar, numbering around a million people. They have been denied voting rights in the latest election on the basis of being unable to prove their citizenship. Aung San Suu Kyi has said little on this issue and it appears that there is little appetite from the NLD to prioritise the fate of the Rohingyas, instead preferring to focus on state- and democracy-building in Myanmar.
In achieving these goals there is still a long way to go. But Myanmar may yet prove to be a good example of a transition to pluralist democracy, a process that must be measured in decades, and not in years. Myanmar’s transition to democracy will also be a very welcome addition and boost to the democratic credentials of ASEAN.