ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Myanmar's Elections

Skewed Constitution and Its Conundrums

As Myanmar prepares for its third elections under its third constitution in 67 years, this article looks at the evolution of its electoral practices and its constitutions. The complex rules and seat allocation in parliament make it very difficult but not impossible for the main opposition party to defeat the military in this "militarised democracy."

This article was earlier posted on the Web Exclusives section of EPW website.

Views expressed in the article are personal and do not have any official endorsements.

Myanmar’s tryst with democracy since its independence has been extremely fragile. The British left the country under a weak democratic rule with a hastily formed constitution in 1948. This constitutional government managed to stay in power till 1962, but amidst an uncontrolled civil war, insurgency, corruption and mismanagement. Thereafter, the armed forces which had already tasted political power for 18 months during the election period in 1960, staged a coup, arrested many members of the government, suspended the constitution, and ruled by decree. From 1962 onwards, for the next 28 years, Myanmar was under a one-party rule (Burma Socialist Programme Party; BSPP) under General Ne Win.

After Ne Win’s withdrawal from politics, there was an economic crisis, which provoked popular unrest. During this period, Myanmar witnessed tardy growth and increase in unemployment. In the summer of 1988, the people of Myanmar revolted against the ruling military government. Subsequently, a 19-member military-backed State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) took over the reins in September 1988 and promised to hold multiparty democratic general elections. This promise was welcomed by the people of Myanmar. The elections finally took place in 1990 and the opposition party, National League for Demo­cracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi won an absolute ­majority of votes and seats. The SLORC refused to recognise the results of the election, and instead continued its ­repressive rule, held Suu Kyi under house arrest, and suppressed the democratic aspirations of the people. After 20 years, the military junta framed a new constitution and declared elections in 2010. Though these elections were boycotted by the main opposition party NLD, the new ruler Thein Sein started a blitzkrieg of reforms which brought the country back into the world’s mainstream. There remain spots of scepticism that surround the basic tenets of democracy on which this state rests its constitution.

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