A Changing Ethnic Landscape: Analysis of Burma's 2010 Polls
"Burma is at a critical juncture in its history. The transition to a form of civilian government and constitutional rule is underway, however imperfect it may be."
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The elections held in Burma on 7 November 2010 were not free and fair. The manipulation of the vote count was even more blatant than those parties and individuals who decided to participate, despite the unlevel playing field, had expected. This has severely limited the opposition’s representation in the legislatures, and it has seriously damaged the credibility of the new government to be formed in the coming weeks. Nevertheless, the significance of the elections should not be underestimated.
Despite its many serious deficiencies, a crucial feature of the 2008 constitution is that it defines Burma as a multi-ethnic, multi-party democratic state, something that cannot be said of many countries in the region. This twenty-first century vision of Burma has yet to be realized in practice, but as an aspirational goal it is widely shared and important.
The present-dayrealities are that, unless unpredicted and potentially volatile events intercede, longoverdue improvements in the lot of Burma’s ethnic peoples are likely to come in the form of incremental and hard-won concessions within the imperfect framework of the 2008 constitution.
Conclusions and Recommendations
- Burma is at a critical juncture in its history. The transition to a form of civilian government and constitutional rule is underway, however imperfect it may be.
- The 2010 elections in Burma have not been free and fair. The manipulation of the vote count was also more blatant than anticipated. This has severely limited opposition representation in the legislatures, and seriously damaged the credibility of the new government that will be formed soon.
- The new government should open political space in the country, release political prisoners, protect basic freedoms, and seek lasting solutions to the ethnic conflicts.
- The international community should support the range of actors in Burma in their efforts to promote political change, including political parties that participated in the elections and ceasefire groups. It should also develop policies that support efforts aimed at preventing a new phase in the 60-year insurgency, and that promote peace and equitable development.