The National League for Democracy and their leader, former political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi have expressed strong confidence in their party’s chance for a landslide victory. A precedent of this would be that the NLD had “a landslide victory in a 1990 election ignored by the military” (The Globe and Mail) and in 2012 “the NLD claimed 43 of the 45 seats on offer, accruing about 66% of the available votes” (BBC) – given the conditions of Myanmar’s first-past-the-post election system, a landslide victory is possible. Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Myanmarese military has made comments affirming that, in this occasion, there won’t be military intervention.
Regardless of the NLD’s optimism and precedents, it is only to be expected that there are divergent opinions in regards to the election. The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) led by Thein Sein, which is in power, is rival to the NLD in the election. One has to bear in mind that the NLD has gained its popularity from a campaign against military rule. Taking this into consideration, in rural regions with ethnic focuses, it appears to be that the USDP is preferred over the NLD. One of the most prominent issues is that of religious representation, for Myanmar is split between two notable factions:
“Religious tension, fanned by Buddhist nationalists whose actions have intimidated Burma's Muslim minority, also marred the election campaign. Among those excluded from voting were around a million Rohingya Muslims who are effectively stateless in their own land” (CBC).
Many have expressed disinterest in Sun Kyi’s campaign as it stresses a defence of Rohingya Muslims in the region; consequently, many have expressed support of USDP in opposition to the NLD’s interests.
However, the outcomes of the election have to be framed within the margins of Myanmar’s constitution and political technicalities. For instance, even if Sun Kyi wins the election, she cannot become president. “Article 59F of the constitution states that if one of your "legitimate children… owes allegiance to a foreign power" you are disqualified. That covers both Ms Suu Kyi's sons Kim and Alexander, who have British passports” (BBC). In addition, the power of the president is highly undermined by the militia. “Key security ministries (defence, home affairs and border affairs) are selected by the head of the army, not the president, and there can be no change to the constitution without military approval” (BBC). Indeed, a Myanmarese president could only have power by radical constitutional reforms.
So, what can we understand of Myanmar’s situation? Ultimately, there is a displacement of power where authority is held by military forces – the citizens and the kinds of politics that are allowed in Myanmar are framed by a constitution which regulates, restricts, and prohibits what kinds of institutions and assemblies are possible. To institute democracy in its most ideal form (at least where the elected government forms its ministries) seems difficult within these conditions, as it appears that the coercive control of the military will oppose reform. Regardless of these politico-structural conditions of Myanmar, there is an underlying problem over the regulation of citizenship. In the midst of the battle between political parties, the political identities of nationalist Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims presents an idea of who can be considered a member of Myanmarese society and who is granted political participation. Rohingya Muslims are currently regarded as non-Myanmarese people by the local nationalists; thus, within Myanmarese civil society, there is another kind of informal exertion of power to regulate who belongs in Myanmar and who does not.