NLD must stand for all ethnic groups

Myanmar has marked the start of a historic, new democratic era with its first democratically elected parliament in 50 years convening for the first time on Monday. The new parliament is dominated by the National League for Democracy, which won almost 80 per cent of the contested seats in the November general election. This is an exciting moment for the people of Myanmar who have strug-gled for decades to end the military rule. However, Myanmar has still a long way to go before it can confidently claim to be a democracy. Even its parliament cannot be described as a fully democratic body, as 25 per cent of its seats are filled by the military. What is more, it is the military that controls the key ministries of defence, border affairs and home affairs. Thus, while the NLD government will bear responsibility, it is the military that will wield real power and call the shots.

Still, the convening of the new parliament is a step in Myanmar’s long trek towards becoming a vibrant democracy. Among its first tasks is the election of a new president. With the numbers in its favour, the NLD candidate is likely to be elected. The Constitution bars NLD president Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency. She is expected to nominate a loyalist to the country’s top post. Already she has indicated that she will be “above the president.” This does not bode well as it indicates that she intends functioning as an extra-constitutional authority, arrogating power to herself that is not sanctioned by the constitution. This will deal another setback to Myanmar’s democratisation process, ironically by the very party that led its pro-democracy movement.

The NLD government is likely to focus on constitutional reform and the peace process. It should avoid the single-issue preoccupation of enabling Suu Kyi to become president. While the restriction on her is unfair, there are other issues that merit urgent attention. Importantly, the NLD government must avoid head-on collisions with the military at this juncture as it needs the military’s cooperation to make the ethnic ceasefires hold on the ground. Hitherto, the NLD has functioned as a guardian of Burman-Buddhists.  Its government must act to protect the interests of all the ethnic groups. It needs to adopt a more inclusive approach to the ethnic minorities especially the Rohingya Muslims. Conferring citizenship on them is the necessary first step that the NLD government must take to strengthen Myanmar’s nascent democracy. Only an inclusive state will make Myanmar’s democracy meaningful.

DH Newsletter Privacy Policy Get top news in your inbox daily
GET IT
Comments (+)