So you think Myanmar is now a democracy? Stop kidding yourself

11 November 2015 12:38 pm

So the world is celebrating with Myanmar's military-backed ruling party heading for a massive rout at the hands of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The Nobel laureate is set for a historic electoral victory that could give her party the presidency. People hope it will loosen the military's grip on the country. Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy says it has won 154 of the 164 seats in four states for which results are known. The trend was expected to continue in Myanmar's remaining 10 states. This is a new chapter in the history of Myanmar with the Union Solidarity Development Party, made up former junta members who ruled the Southeast Asian country for a half-century and as a quasi-civilian government since 2011 looking at defeat.

But this doesn’t mean Myanmar suddenly becomes a democracy. The military is still in charge. As the New York Times tells us, under the terms of the Constitution drawn up by the generals, a large and powerful part of the bureaucracy will remain under the direct control of the military, with powers including issuing passports and running a domestic security apparatus that spies on Myanmar citizens.

This is not the election of a new government. Myanmar’s citizens have elected MPs to take the spot in a shared government with the military.

And it is the army that gets to choose the key government ministers. The Wall Street Journal informs us that Myanmar’s constitution grants the military the legislative advantage as well as the right to appoint key officials, including the home and defence ministers. The most powerful bureaucracies—Home Affairs, Border Affairs, and Military Affairs—will remain under military control, and their budgets will remain above civilian scrutiny, regardless of which party controls the government.

The constitution also bans people with close relatives who are foreign nationals from being president. It just so happens that Ms. Suu Kyi’s two sons are British. Funny that.

The Burmese army has been carrying atrocities against ethnic minorities, using rape as a weapon of war and villagers are being wiped out.

U Kyaw Maung, a former monk and resistance leader who was helping out the campaign, told the New Yorker that the civilian government could offer the military incentives to change the constitution.

The first incentive, he said, could be to promise not to seek revenge against the military. A second, he said, would be to persuade the military that it could modernize faster under civilian rule, when there would be less corruption.

But that will be a hard sell. The miltiary has massive political and economic power in Myanmar. There is no sign that it will give an inch.