Why this election is important for Myanmar

Myanmar (or Burma), a nation with a history of violence and Civil War, is finally able to breathe a sigh of relief as its first openly contested election in decades was conducted over the weekend. Burma, a nation emaciated by years of post-colonial violence, can finally start re-building its democracy and subsequently, its citizens’ faith in the government–and they are definitely on their way. There were no reports of electoral violence throughout the polling centers as about 80% of the voters turned out to vote.

Myanmar, a former British colony, has been under the thumb of its military, locally known as the Tatmadaw, for the past 2 decades. The military has overseen numerous human rights abuses and was named, in 2003 by the United Nations, as one of the most oppressive regimes in the world. Myanmar has had to endure numerous sanctions placed on it by the United States of America, with the most recent occurring in 2012.

Sensing a systematic demise of its economy and seeking validation from the west, the Military Head, General Than Shwe, in 2011  pronounced the end of military rule. This decision was followed by mass resignations through the Burmese army as the military leaders simply changed from uniforms into suits.

The party formed and supported by these retired soldiers, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), with military help, had the most seats in the parliament and elected former General Then Sein as President. He continued the military’s oppressive rule, but under the aegis of a ‘democratic’ government.

However, now there has been palpable change as the voice of the opposition party National League of Democracy (NLD) is speaking loudly now. The party, led by Nobel Laureate, Aug San Suu Kyi, is beginning to move ahead in the fight for democracy to prevail over dictatorship. Aug San Suu Kyi, a former Burmese General’s daughter herself, knows what it feels like to be oppressed by the military, having been placed under house arrest at different times between 1989 and 2010 by them. Yet, like the great Nelson Mandela, she chose non-violence. “I do not hold to non-violence for moral reasons, but for political and practical reasons.” she stated in 2007.

The NLD is already winning with 78 out of 88 seats in results announced after Sunday’s parliamentary elections. The military USDP has only won 5 seats. The target for the majority is 329. However, you can be forgiven if you think this was a surprise to many in Myanmar. There had been several agitations for change previously, with many of the rural dwellers indicating their willingness to vote for the NLD and especially Aung San Suu Kyi. Thousands of the NLD supporters stood in the pouring rain to hail Aung San Suu Kyi with shouts of “We Will Win, We Will Win”. As the whole world is looking at Myanmar and its military, a win for democracy would signify the readiness of Myanmar to finally live up to expectations of it becoming an Asian tiger someday. Military leaders would not dare sabotage the elections. Maybe this time, the people will actually win.

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