Burma’s 2010 Elections: Challenges and Opportunities
The election process in Burma represents the most significant political transformation for a generation
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In 2010, Burma (Myanmar) will hold its first elections in twenty years. These have been widely dismissed internationally as a charade, and Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy have refused to participate, condemning the governing legislation as “unfair” and “unjust”.
However, despite the very obvious flaws in the process, it represents the most significant political transformation for a generation. New leaders and a new political landscape will emerge, giving rise to opportunities to push for change, as well as a new set of challenges.
It will also have a crucial impact on the ethnic question: either by setting the scene for further tension and violence or by opening the space for discussing ethnic grievances. This paper provides an overview of the more significant challenges and opportunities, discusses the political dynamics in the lead-up to the polls, and suggests some possible post-election scenarios.
Conclusions and Recommendations
• The elections will not be free or fair, given the uneven playing field, longstanding denial of basic freedoms, and some draconian provisions of the election laws.
• In criticising the process, it is important not to undermine the position of those candidates proposing change. An embryonic opposition voice in authoritarian legislatures should be encouraged rather than marginalised.
• These elections must also be judged on how they deliver on demands for equitable political rights and inclusion by ethnic groups, and on the long-standing crisis of conflict and insurgency in the ethnic borderlands.
• It would be a massive wasted opportunity if the West failed to engage with the new government, to assess their willingness to take the country in a different direction.
• Benchmarks must be tangible, but also realistic. The international community must deliver on its longstanding commitment to support meaningful reforms towards democracy and ethnic peace in Burma.