On 1 April Burma will hold a by-election for 45 parliamentary seats. This blog will cover it live from Yangon
If you had to name someone from Myanmar right now, the chances are that the name Aung San Suu Kyi will be on the tip of your tongue. She is deservedly held up as the epitome of democracy campaigners. She has shown how the human spirit can endure hardship (in her case illicit imprisonment). And she has been a successful woman amongst the male mists of a reclusive nation. She is a beacon for Burmese democracy and, crucially, she is not alone. There are other beacons being lit by other determined, multi-party-minded activists.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) is the most well-known of the Burmese opposition parties. She has certainly been campaigning hard as the 1 April by-election comes ever nearer and international broadcasters have been picking up her flag-waving and hand-shaking. It seems to outsiders looking in that she and her followers will sweep to victory in the very few seats (48 out of 664) seats that are being contested this spring.
Much has been made of the fact that this is the first time that Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD are running in a general election since they won the vote held in 1990. Her reward for the poll success then was the devastating house arrest from which she was only freed in 2010. This time excitement is brewing that her reward will be a true place in the Amyotha Hluttaw (lower house).
But the NLD are not the only opposition party looking to win seats in parliament. The National Democratic Force broke off from the NLD in order to compete in the last polls, in November 2010, which the NLD boycotted. The NDF currently has four MPs in the lower house and will be looking to build on this representation. There has been rivalry as well as friendship between the NLD and the NDF but it seems that the less well-known party is determined to achieve electoral success without the force of Suu Kyi on side.
Burma has many different ethnic nationalities, from the Mon of the eastern delta to the Shan of the central east and the Kachin of the far north in the hills on the border with China. Many of these groups have also formed political parties under the democratic banner and are running for power as well.
The ongoing process of reforms seems to be following Cuba’s Castro timescale (‘without rushing but without stopping’) and so far the US and the UK have seen enough to have flown in Hillary Clinton and William Hague to support the changes. The US has re-opened ambassadorial ties and the EU is discussing an easing of sanctions.
The path to democracy is now being trodden by the Burmese, with Aung San Suu Kyi at the head of the line. But it is important not to forget the other campaigners from different parties also dreaming of a better future and their efforts must be recognised as well. A strong democratic opposition to the military’s grip on parliament can only be built through a wide coalition of ethnicities and political leanings. Suu Kyi’s charisma is welcome and something that cannot be ignored by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party. But there are other democrats, and their voices must be heard too.
This blog will cover the by-election live from Burma on 1 April