The by-elections on coming Sunday (1 April) are being seen as a major tryout of Burma’s quasi-civilian government’s promise to continue democratic reforms as an irreversible political process.
There are 48 parliamentary seats vacant throughout the country. However, voting has been postponed in three constituencies in Kachin state where authorities reasoned security concerns. But the NLD will stand in only 44 out of 45 vacant seats after one of its candidates was barred by the local election commission.
Burma’s Nobel laureate and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi is contesting for a parliamentary seat in this by-election for the first time since her party was banned to take political power after landslide victory in 1990 elections. The April 1 vote has been watched closely by foreign governments who are taking into consideration to lift long-lasting economic sanctions.
Even though the NLD wins all the seats, the military-backed ruling party would still have a powerful majority in the legislative body.
On 14 March, Chairperson of the National League for Democracy Aung San Suu Kyi presented the party’s policy, stance and work programmes through state-owned radio and TV. In her campaign speech, she called for flourishing democracy under rule of law.
“ Public fear reigned in the country as the rule of law had been hampered due to various ways such as the putting of judicial system under control of the government machinery, nationalization of media and the revoking of the people’s rights to speak, write, hear and express freely by passing strict media and sensor rules. Democracy will not flourish unless the people have freedom from fear and human rights. With the rule of law, the people will really enjoy protection by law and the taste of freedom,” she said during her campaign broadcast.
One remarkable point of view she mentioned was directly relating to the Burma Army.
“According to the political experiences and incidents of Myanmar (Burma), I believe that the endeavours for development of Myanmar call for essential participation of the Tatmadaw (Armed Forces),” she said in her campaign speech via the state-owned Radio and Television.
“Actually, a constitution is a charter placed between the people and the rulers. It can be amended, changed or abolished when necessary. It is found that the present constitution is not in conformity with democratic norms and standards,” she added.
“One clear example is that only the rule of people by the representatives elected by the people is the true essence of democracy. It has been known to all that in the 2008 constitution, the parliamentary seats of unelected representatives account for 25 percent of all.”
“As there are unelected representatives in the respective Hluttaws (Parliaments), it is not in conformity with democratic principles. The National League for Democracy has publicly announced the sections of the constitution that need amendments,” she made a plain criticism on the unelected representatives of the military in her speech.
However, on 27 March, which democrats regard as Anti-fascist Resistance Day and military marks as Armed Forces Day, Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services General Min Aung Hlaing said that according to the Constitution, military personnel taking seats in various Hluttaws (Parliaments) is to serve for the benefits of the National Political responsibilities.
Min Aung Hlaing said that ‘the Defense Services is mainly responsible for safeguarding the Constitution’ according to section 20, sub-section (f).
He reiterated that the armed-forces have to safeguard the National Constitution as the crucial responsibilities in building up a modern developed democratic nation.
In conclusion, he repeated that the armed-forces will have to safeguard the constitution as a major responsibility while building up a democratic nation. It looks as if Min Aung Hlaing’s 67th Anniversary Armed Forces Day speech contrasts with Suu Kyi’s campaign speech.
Some analysts consider that as a protégé of former senior-general Than Shwe, Min Aung Hlaing clearly voiced to safeguard the 2008 constitution which gives extraordinary power to the Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services.
Then, it is a new political puzzle for the people of Burma with regard to Min Aung Hlaing. If he believes to change the country into a modern, developed and democratic nation, he should convince the role of the military institution which in fact is particularly set up for the defense purpose and nothing to do with the administrative or legislative responsibilities.
If Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services wants a modern developed nation, he should not be in the way of Burma’s Nobel laureate who wins substantial support of the mainstream population. He should not be dogmatic about the previous junta made constitution as an unchangeable.