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Sunday, the people of Myanmar went to the polls for parliamentary elections producing a historic landslide result with the National League for Democracy (NLD) party lead by Aung San Suu Kyi taking 43 of 44 open seats in the 664-seat parliament.

It's almost midnight here so I'm going to keep this short, but join me after the fold for a few remarks on the implications of this.

A brief update with some good news follows the fold (CST 00:08 2012.04.04)


Some good news comes from the ASEAN meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia today.

Myanmar President U Thein Sein, attending the meeting, spoke to the press today stating:

(NYT) Myanmar President Praises Weekend Elections

 ...  (that the weekend’s by-elections were) "conducted in a very successful way."

Apparently signaling government acceptance of the landslide results. You will note the election only gives the NLD a foothold as an opposition party in Parliament but the overwhelming response with Aung San Suu Kyi receiving 85% support in her district election sent a clear message.
Speaking before a crowd outside her party’s headquarters on Monday, Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi expressed enthusiasm over the results of the weekend voting.

“What is important is not how many seats we have won — although of course we are extremely gratified that we have won so many — but the fact that the people are so enthusiastic about participating in the democratic process,” she said.

In a separate statement from the meeting, ASEAN called for the lifting of sanctions against Myanmar due the election result.
(BBC) Asean calls for Burma sanctions to be lifted

Leaders of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), meeting in Cambodia, have called for economic sanctions against Burma to be lifted.

The 10-country group said the move would help Burma achieve "peace, national reconciliation, democracy and national development".

- snip -

Asean has called on the rest of the world to show its faith in the reform process in Burma.

As the current chair of the association, Cambodia said the international community should "consider lifting economic sanctions" in response to the Burmese opposition's strong showing in the weekend's by-elections.

As the BBC states, although the results of the election have been well-received in Europe, it is likely to be months before sanctions are lifted and I would agree pressure should remain for a brief period, at least until NLD official take office and introduce measures for a vote demonstrating their ability to function as the opposition party in Parliament.

I take this news to knock-down my point Number 1 in the original diary below and I'm happy to be proven wrong.

And with that, I will take leave for the next day or so to celebrate Qingming Festival (清明节) and attend to family business, wishing you the best with yours.

* Original Diary **

I think I need make no introductions about the struggle for democracy in Myanmar (aka Burma) but anyone lacking the basics can go back in my diary history and find several published in Sept/Oct 2007 to get the picture, or hit these quick links to The Guardian:

Burma rejoices on a long-delayed day for democracy

Aung San Suu Kyi hails 'new era' for Burma after landslide victory

Needless to say, people are celebrating today as Aung San Suu Kyi proclaimed "the beginning of a new era" in her country's political history as she was swarmed by supporters in Rangoon.

After spending a total of 22 years under house arrest, including 7 years before her release ing 2010, events have moved fast in what has been a rapid reversal of policy under the reformist president Thein Sein, who so far has kept hardliners of the ruling military junta at bay.

But given the fragile situation in Myanmar, change brings risk, and the risks are many, so I would like to briefly comment on a few points that should be followed.

First and foremost is the possibility the the military junta could invalidate the election which saw their party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) take a singe seat, losing face to the NLD. Since the Guardian elaborates the politics of this including the fact the military holds 1/3 of parliament seats by rule, I will only say I hope they do not act so foolishly and doubt it will happen but this cannot be ruled-out.

Second, is the fact that Myanmar is not a robust political state with a shared history. In fact, the present configuration was a creation of British Colonialism and is composed of regional states that historically have been at odds, with significant ethnic tensions and separatist movements that have been suppressed by the junta and fighting guerrilla wars for decades.This introduces 2 types of risk, that (a) separatists  could capitalize on the situation to start new campaigns destabilizing the country and that (b) this could be used as a pretext for voiding the election or further repression. This is impossible to predict, but anyone familiar with the tensions would not rule it out.

Third, a backlash repression orchestrated by the USDP (verses the junta itself) could challenge directly or by subterfuge or dirty-tricks, undermine the NLD in the streets or in the parliament.

But this does not matter. One Lady in a Red Dress with the people behind her are determined to navigate these turbulent waters and regardless of what set-backs they encounter, even the worst, they will persist.

Ultimately, non-violence and the power of ideas will win, today or later, but it will happen.

Peace be with them.

Originally posted to koNko on Mon Apr 02, 2012 at 09:36 AM PDT.

Also republished by Foreign Relations.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips for People (11+ / 0-)

    Tips for the long and crooked but righteous path on non-violence.

    What about my Daughter's future?

    by koNko on Mon Apr 02, 2012 at 09:36:11 AM PDT

  •  to think (4+ / 0-)

    that they have moved towards a more open and Democratic society without being bombed into submission by pre-emptive war!

    Who in the USA would have believed such a thing is possible?

    Thanks for the update, koNko. I always appreciate hearing your perspective.

    Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

    by LaughingPlanet on Mon Apr 02, 2012 at 09:46:52 AM PDT

  •  Nice post koNko (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    What do you think about what appears to be a move away from Chinese influence toward a relationship with America.

    What role do you think Sec. of State Clinton played in this?

    Well, I been around the world, and I've been in the Washington Zoo. And in all my travels, as the facts unravel, I've found this to be true.... ...they don't give a f^ck about anybody else

    by Zwoof on Mon Apr 02, 2012 at 10:11:39 AM PDT

    •  Good question. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wu ming, Gay In Maine

      I think China will be OK if the result is a more sable and reformist government and the US does not take undue advantage of the situation politically to insert itself in regional politics as it has done in the past 3 years, notably the past 2.

      And toward that end, I'm pleased Clinton is planning to resign soon because her bad side would do exactly that - sometimes she doesn't leave well enough alone. Methinks Clinton has a great sense of recent history and her place in it, I always enjoy dissecting her speeches, and I'm not married to her so it's my guilty pleasure.

      Her support of Aung San Suu Kyi came at the right moment and was helpful, but the US should leave it at that and not over-reach by trying to drive wedges between India and China which is implicit in the politics of the situation.

      IOW, as long as there is progress, a light and neutral touch is called-for.

      China has been pressuring Myanmar to reform for several years while playing various cards for resources and influence, the latter got a partial set-back with the changes this year but China barely blinked because the former is headed in the right direction.

      2012 is going to be an interesting year for China, the USA and the region, keeping a cool head and sticking to one's own knitting has merit.

      As I noted, the situation in Myanmar is not exactly sable particularly in the Northern areas bordering China where there have been separatist movements for decades, and China has often taken in refugees to act as a buffer. I expect whomever is ultimately in control will maintain cordial relations if at slightly greater arms length, but that is OK or even good - all great relationships have a bit of tension to add spice. We are all swimming in the same pool.

      We have our own historical changing of the guard soon and it's keeping our bloggers busy, what with Uncle Wen chastising backwater politicians and such.

      Life goes on.

      Well. I'm off to bed, see you.
      So how are the wife and kids?

      What about my Daughter's future?

      by koNko on Mon Apr 02, 2012 at 10:42:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  All are well here, (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        but we are all longing for a visit back to China- maybe next year.

        The change in Burma is a good thing. I've always wanted to go there, but the politics were not encouraging.
        Peace to you and yours.

        Well, I been around the world, and I've been in the Washington Zoo. And in all my travels, as the facts unravel, I've found this to be true.... ...they don't give a f^ck about anybody else

        by Zwoof on Mon Apr 02, 2012 at 11:48:17 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  yeah, 2012 is looking like a very interesting year (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Zwoof, koNko

        for the pacific rim, in so many ways. whenever you feel comfortable giving your take on recent events in your neck of the wood, i'm all ears. wen does appear to be as good a weiqi player as you've suggested in the past.

        working out how to reconcile democratization and de-authoritarianization with strong centrifugal regional separatist tendencies is a challenge for nearly every state in southeast asia (china among them, counting guizhou/guangxi/yunnan as part of southeast asia, in several ways). ultimately it comes down to the definition of what a nation-state ought to be, and negotiating center-local governance. spain a couple decades ago, in some ways, is an interesting parallel to burma's situation.

        •  oops, forgot one bit (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Zwoof, koNko

          insert "forging a national ideal that includes minority or regional identities and ethnicities as equal partners" in the second-to-last sentence. much harder than it looks, and not always made easier with democratization (although it can be done).

          •  Yes, and if you read the piece I linked to below (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            it will be a task to appeal to modern thinkers and those who believe in the traditional culture. I personally think that there is room for both, barring discrimination and accepting "the old ways" along with the new path.

            Well, I been around the world, and I've been in the Washington Zoo. And in all my travels, as the facts unravel, I've found this to be true.... ...they don't give a f^ck about anybody else

            by Zwoof on Mon Apr 02, 2012 at 12:01:01 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Patriotic lip service comes easy (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            wu ming

            Convincing people in all directions not so. A basic dynamic of psychology in Asia is feudalistic group identification which has deep cultural roots. Not a simple task to change, but I personally stress the concept of modern nation-states verses "my people/my nation" in such debates. The question is, do you want to go backward or forward?

            What about my Daughter's future?

            by koNko on Mon Apr 02, 2012 at 06:10:17 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  i think the roots of the current mess are modern (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              more than the age-old premodern modes of control, which tended to be much more comfortable with degrees of autonomy, fuzzy borders, ethnically ambiguous proxy chieftains, flexible policy, etc. the idea that a nation-state should be uniformly controlled by one master ethnicity, governed absolutely to the ends of its territory, with unquestioned authority on the frontiers, is something that really only came with colonization and the adoption of 19th century ideas of modernity.

              not that imperial regimes didn't periodically come in and lay waste to rebellious frontiers, but there was no expectation that it could be sustained like a metropolitan county.

              group identity in asia is a fascinating hybrid of premodern ethnic tropes and 19th century racial essentialism. what's tricky is that whole all the words that people use are very old, the meanings and the system of relations that they currently have are quite distinct from pre-19th century meanings and systems.

              •  The present shape of Myanmar (0+ / 0-)

                Is a British colonial construct of (traditional) Burma and a big chunk of previously feudal states to the north. The good part, is it did set the stage to create a modern nation-state. The hard part is what you elaborate. I wonder if the tribal folk will find a stake in the nation-state and hope Suu Kyi can pull that off because in our modern world, small, underdeveloped nations in nation tend not to prosper.

                She is walking a dangerous tightrope. Brave lady.

                What about my Daughter's future?

                by koNko on Mon Apr 02, 2012 at 07:35:19 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

        •  Well put. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          wu ming

          On both points.

          Mr Wen is full of surprises. Every once in a while, he inserts an exclamation point.

          Myanmar faces the difficulty in the North as this is historically a region of small tribal states that are fiercely independent and often at odds with each other. All you have to do to understand it is to study the geographic location which borders China, Laos and Thailand, and that the military junta made war, not love, and is universally despised.

          Shan State, in particular, is a hot bed of separatism and every village has a standing army. Cross any border to find cousins.

          China and Thailand have tried to buffer this for years, just as they have tried to maximize their influence with economic aid. Now they need to stand clear and let the political process try to work, but I think this election will stir the pot and hope it does not have any negative consequences.

          China really took the rebuff by Thein Sein in stride and the timing of this election is fortunate because until the dust from the administration hand-over clears, it will be pretty self-occupied and avoid any friction and controversy it can, and there is more than enough domestic intrigue right now to keep us netzens amused.

          I suppose Thais are looking at this as an opportunity to (eventually) re-patriate the thousands of refugees in camps along their border, which they have been trying to force for some time. Thai influence in Myanmar has been mostly by private investor proxy, so typical for Thais. Those folks are flexible.

          I hope peace reigns in the kingdom, it's time for change.

          What about my Daughter's future?

          by koNko on Mon Apr 02, 2012 at 06:58:29 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  thailand's relationship with the northern thai (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            and other upland peoples in the golden triangle around chiang mai through chiang khong has a similar sort of fraught history. basically, you can waste untold amounts of blood and money trying to crush any difference, or you can work the "loose reins" and offer actual autonomy, and make a non-forcible case for why your central state ought to be a friend and not an enemy.

            but it takes a confident nation-state to do that, something rare in nearly all cases historically (see also: the US vs. native americans), and especially lacking in southeast asia and its neighbors (india ought to be included in that group as well, now that i think of it).

            but hope springs eternal.

            •  Yeah, and the Junta did the opposite. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              wu ming

              Repression and exploitation. Not nice.

              Certainly a north-south divide in Thailand, now with colored T-shirts. Well, maybe that will keep them busy.

              What about my Daughter's future?

              by koNko on Mon Apr 02, 2012 at 07:26:17 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  if the powers that be allow it to be channeled (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                into peaceful electoral contests with respected election results, it could dial things down to the point where it wouldn't threaten to blow the country up. it's unclear whether they're that bright, though, judging from the past decade or so.

                if we're lucky, the junta is the analogue for franco, and the various separatist movements are like the basque and catalan, and some sort of dialing-down can eventually start to take hold in the decades to come.

                but there has to be the will, and the elites' self-interest in peace rather than tension.

      •  Here's a piece on Burma I wrote back in 2007 (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Well, I been around the world, and I've been in the Washington Zoo. And in all my travels, as the facts unravel, I've found this to be true.... ...they don't give a f^ck about anybody else

        by Zwoof on Mon Apr 02, 2012 at 11:52:30 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Nice Diary (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          As I noted elsewhere, it's an interesting country, including the Nats.

          In fact, animism and naturalism are common to Asian beliefs and come in all flavors, particularly southeast and central Asia where it is one root of Hinduism and Buddhism which evolved from the former. Have you ever studied Shinto? Virtually hundreds of lesser Gods in the form of natural/supernatural spirits, which I guess accounts for the popularity of fortune telling and horror films in Japan. Go to any Shinto shrine and you will find thousands of little papers with appeals to the spirits for good test scores and better neighbors - you never know, so don't take chances!

          What about my Daughter's future?

          by koNko on Mon Apr 02, 2012 at 07:14:27 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  A rare instance of reforms from above (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    But I suppose not unprecedented. Gorbachev's reforms were also reforms from above.

    I wonder if the same could happen in China?

    •  It is. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      But step-by-step on account of our aversion to social chaos. Hu and Wen actually made some important social and legal reforms despite the authoritarian bits that keep the right happy and at bay. A record number on non-party members are running for local public office this year and face resistance, but it is happening. From 2013 onward you will see more change once the dust clears. I hope.

      What about my Daughter's future?

      by koNko on Mon Apr 02, 2012 at 06:32:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Two places on earth where the outcome of (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    free and fair elections are known in advance: Myanmar and Haiti.

    Congrats Aung San Suu Kyi -- and may you fare better than Aristide has.

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