Suu Kyi practically unchallenged as Myanmar heads into elections

By Mratt Kyaw Thu and Carlos Sardiña Galache

Yangon, Myanmar/Bangkok, Nov 6 (efe-epa).- As the first democratically elected government of Myanmar completes its five-year term after over half a century of military dictatorship, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi is all set to retain power in Sunday’s elections, despite not having fulfilled many of the people’s expectations.

Many critics have accused Suu Kyi of not making progress in the process of democratization that began in 2011 or even attempt to resolve conflicts with ethnic minorities.

“The Lady” – as she is popularly addressed in Myanmar – has also fallen into disgrace internationally over the government’s policies towards the mostly Muslim Rohingya minority.

However, Suu Kyi, who became an icon for her persistent struggle for democracy – being kept in house-arrest for 15 years and receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 – continues to be very popular in the country, at least among the majority Bamar community, who have little sympathy for the Rohingya and still vividly remember the dictatorship.

“You can say that Aung San Suu Kyi’s five years were a kind of slow process in some factors like peace process and fighting against corruption. But I think it’s only five years. Look at the past. It’s over 60 years of dictators ruling the country in chaos,” Lin Wai Myaing, a 46-year-old employee of an electronics company in Yangon, told EFE.

“We have no other choice. We must believe in her for sure. Tell me anyone (else) who is eligible to lead the country now,” he added.

Among the 93 parties in the fray, none can match the massive national footprint of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, not even the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.

The NLDs landslide victory in the 2015 elections was the culmination of the transition process towards what the military called a “disciplined democracy,” which had begun in 2011 with the appointment of former general Thein Sein as president.

Although the transition was fiercely controlled by the military, which reserved 25 percent of the seats in the parliament and three ministerial berths for itself, the Thein Sein administration oversaw a period of gradual democratization. Many experts believe this process has been stalled since Suu Kyi came to power.

“For her, democracy is about elections and very little else. In academic terms it’s called electoral democracy; in everyday terms it’s the system that regards the people as vote-deliverers every five years and nothing more,” Khin Zaw Win, director of Yangon-based think thank Tampadipa Institute, told EFE.

Myanmar has made hardly any progress on issues such as freedom of expression, which is evident by a number of cases and sentences slapped on journalists, watchdog Reports Without Borders (RSF) said last year.

“Civil liberties are cleverly presented as viable and flourishing when actually they are constrained by a panoply of means such as the defamation law. Public gatherings can be permitted or disallowed as the situation demands,” said Khin Zaw Win.

However not all the citizens agree, especially when they compare the current government with the military dictatorship.

“The advantages of Mother Su’s government are simple. You can now ask about her and her government in the public, right? You couldn’t even dare to talk about the generals’ relatives 10 years ago. It’s not that too far to look back,” Wunna Htun, a 28-year-old professional cyclist, told EFE.

One of the state objectives of NLD is establishing peace with the dozens of armed separatist groups which have been fighting the military for autonomy since Myanmar’s independence in 1948.

The militants belong to different ethnic minorities, mostly situated in the country’s periphery that constitute around 30 percent of Myanmar’s 53 million inhabitants.

However, Suu Kyi has not been able to carry forward the peace process launched by her predecessor, which could lead to her party losing votes in these areas to regional ethno-nationalist parties.

“In my opinion, the NLD was less prepared than the previous government after assuming power. There have been few talks with the armed groups and political parties (…) and the military has taken advantage of that,” Cheery Zahau, a well known activist of the Chin minority, told EFE.

A major obstacle in the peace process is the autonomy enjoyed by the armed forces, as the 2008 constitution designed by the generals keeps the forces outside the civilian government’s control, although many minority citizens believe that Suu Kyi is complicit in the centralized power structure along with the men in uniform.

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