DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
Pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has thrown the gauntlet at the military-led regime in Myanmar as the November 8 tiol elections draws near, declaring in no uncertain terms she would lead the tion if her party wins the polls, irrespective of whether or not she becomes the President. Suu Kyi’s tiol League for Democracy (NLD) is a frontrunner, if poll predictions are to be believed, but her public defiance of current provisions that a political leader with a foreign spouse cannot hold the office of the country’s president has rattled the military and has forced the Thein Sein Government to push newer strategies to retain power.
One of the key strategies adopted by the military-domited ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is its attempt at building bridges with Myanmar’s myriad ethnic groups who have influence in an estimated 30 per cent of the 664 parliamentary seats. The ethnic groups comprise some 40 per cent of Myanmar’s 52 million population. On Thursday, 15 October, the Myanmar Government signed a limited ceasefire agreement with eight smaller ethnic rebel armies in a bid to end six decades of insurrection against the Burmese-majority Government. Most of the groups who have signed the agreement - Karen tiol Union, Democratic Benevolent Karen Army, Karen Peace Council, Arakan Liberation Party, All-Burma Students’ Democratic Front, Palaung tiol Liberation Organisation, and Chin tiol Front – hail from the Karen region bordering Thailand, known for drug trafficking.
Seven big groups active along the Myanmar-Chi border have kept away, leading to speculations if Beijing has a hand in keeping the insurgency alive. Some of the frontline and heavily armed ethnic militias like the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Shan State Army (North), and the United Wa State Army (UWSA), besides the Kokang rebels fighting the Myanmar military under the banner of the Myanmar tiol Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) will continue to put ypyidaw on tenterhooks, unless they, too, agree to join the peace process later. Their decision not to sign the truce deal has robbed President Thein Sein of his crowning achievement during his five-year term, but he has kept the doors open saying these groups are free to come and enter into a ceasefire at a later date.
The NLD had boycotted the 2010 elections because the military regime had come up with a provision barring her from contesting on the ground her husband was a foreigner. But this time round, Suu Kyi has decided to put up a fight to win, as she says, to “continue the unfinished democratic reform process of the country.” Exuding confidence after the sweeping by-election victory in 2012, Suu Kyi had apparently told Yangon-based diplomats her party was expected to secure 80 per cent of the votes, higher than the 60 per cent the NLD cornered during the 1990 sweep. However, no one knows better than Suu Kyi that this is going to be an uphill task because current provisions allow the military to hold 25 per cent of seats in Parliament. That means, the NLD will actually be fighting for the remaining 75 per cent of the seats, unless sections within the military back the party in favour of a change, and the NLD comes to sweep the polls.
India succeeded in establishing a fairly good working relationship with the military junta during the height of the global sanctions on Myanmar when it was almost reduced to a pariah state. New Delhi consolidated the ties after the 2010 elections that brought a quasi-civilian but military-domited regime. There is no doubt South Block would like the Suu Kyi-led NLD to emerge victorious and take Myanmar on a possible fast track to democracy. And this point, expectedly, is not missed by Suu Kyi when she said during a recent interview to an Indian television channel that she has a ‘special affection’ for India and that the tecity of Indian democracy is a great lesson for Myanmar. As if offering New Delhi a bait, she said in the interview Myanmar can contribute in resolving the differences or improve ties between India and Chi. But Suu Kyi stopped short of expressing her displeasure over the recent Indian military action inside Myanmar while targeting ga rebels, saying all actions of good neighbours have to be transparent. The message for New Delhi is simple—it cannot take the NLD for granted.
There is a general expectation that the elections being held in the presence of intertiol observers are going to be largely free and fair, but what is unclear is the possible picture after the polls. Suu Kyi dismissed suggestions she could do a Sonia Gandhi who had remote-controlled the Manmohan Singh Government in her capacity as the UPA Chairperson. She, however, said, rather boldly, that it was not necessary to be president to lead the Government in Myanmar. The question is this—can anybody be so confident in Myanmar to say anything so radical without some tacit backing of the military? One would not be surprised if sections within the Tatmadaw (military), too, are clamouring for a change in the form of governce in the country—from dictatorship to a quasi-civilian dispensation to total democracy.
It is clear Suu Kyi is banking on the people who she believes are bent on bringing about a change in Myanmar. And, at the same time, she is looking for a clear verdict and has, therefore, rejected suggestions from her own party leaders to keep away from fielding NLD candidates in many of the ethnic regions. The Thein Sein-led USDP, on the other hand, is banking on the support of the ethnic-based political parties to return to power. One thing that is sure is that Myanmar is set to witness a fiercely fought election that will definitely be Suu Kyi’s last chance to be at the helm of affairs herself after years of struggle.