Burma is not moving away from military rule towards democracy despite the impressive victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party in recent elections.
The Burmese military has been in power for the past half century. It is retaining a tight grip on politics by reserving for itself a
quarter of seats in the lower and upper houses.
The interior, defence and border ministers will be military officers and the military has a veto on any constitution changes.
It retains the right to intervene at will in times of “crisis”.
The president is elected from three nominations—two from parliament and one from the military.
The two candidates who fail to gain the most votes will still be vice presidents.
Aung San Suu Kyi is barred from the position because of a law designed specifically to exclude her.
But we should have no illusions in Aung San Suu Kyi or her party the National League for Democracy (NLD).
Suu Kyi has taken a sharp Islamophobic line over the last couple of years.
Buddhist extremists, with the connivance of the military, have violently attacked the persecuted Muslim Rohingyas. Suu Kyi has deliberately ignored their plight.
Thousands of Rohingya people have been forced to escape by boat as refugees to neighbouring countries.
The NLD and the “military party”, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), both barred Muslims from standing as candidates. Non-Rohingya Muslims, who make up five percent of the population, have faced racist obstacles to voter registration.
Despite her brave principles, Aung San Suu Kyi is a neoliberal politician.
She placed a fatal dampener on an anti-military uprising in 1988 just as it was on the verge of victory. Since then she has been reaching out to the military.
Recently she said that if her party won an overall majority she would form a “government of national unity”—including the military.
This would not solve the high levels of inequality in Burma.
Nor will it give voice to the aspirations for autonomy of a number of ethnic minority groups that have waged civil war against the central government.
Suu Kyi has never recognised the legitimacy of such aspirations.
The elections generated a mood of political excitement for many people in Burma.
The turnout was high.
The NLD could dissipate this mood over the months and years as it tries to dampen expectations. Or it could generate a new eagerness to fight against the military.
The latter will require political organisation independent of the Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD.