Myanmar’s politics was once chosen as a simple morality tale: an imprisoned woman with flowers in her hair that clashed with a group of generals and imprisoned pro-democracy activists.
Recent events have distorted that narrative. As the country participates in a general election on Sunday, the vote will serve not only as an assessment of a fragile democracy, but also as a referendum on its civilian leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung Du Soo Ki Suu Kyi Will work.
Myanmar is now mentioned abroad in the same breath as Darfur or Sarajevo for military cleansing of Rohingya Muslims. In an international court last year, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, still with flowers in her hair, Defended Myanmar against genocide charges.
His government, along with former political prisoners, imitated some of the repressive tactics of military leaders, who shut them down and imprisoned peaceful poets, students and Buddhist monks. Some youth activists running as opposition candidates in Sunday’s elections were arrested following suspected allegations of military junta.
Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, and her National League for Democracy, which has been sharing power with the military for five years, are likely to prevail in the election. With the outbreak of the epidemic, early voting among older citizens has been encouraging. Some people took pictures of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of an independence hero, to polling booths as a charm.
But the fact that the health of Myanmar’s democracy is tied to a single woman has disappointed many politicians for failing to build the variety of institutions necessary to completely uproot democracy in the country Accuse the National League.
“We have sacrificed our lives for a democratic country, but now we are losing hope because of the ruling party,” said Yu Koye Ge, a former student leader and political prisoner for 17 years. She formally broke off with Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi last year and formed the People’s Party, which is fielding for the first time on Sunday.
Waiting in the wings is the military, which still controls the most important lever of power and is waging war against ethnic minorities, who make up about a third of the country’s population. In 1962, a nationalist general led a coup against a government overwhelmed by ethnic conflict. A year and a half of military rule followed.
Army chief General Min Aung Hling has indicated to insiders that he may prefer to become president, a position that will be decided by parliament by March 2021. Given that the army chief commands one-fourth of the national legislature. , Which is reserved for military officers and three top cabinet posts, along with some 350,000 soldiers fighting, it can be hard to deny the general’s wishes.
“He is the leader of the strongest institution in Myanmar and the country will be better off if he becomes president,” said U Thin Tun Oo, a spokesperson for the Central Solidarity and Development Party, which represents the interests of the military. “Only a few people have badly reviewed it.”
In Myanmar’s frontier lands, where the country’s ethnic minorities are concentrated, the military is undaunted. So is Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, whose promise to bring peace and national harmony has been made by reducing conflict as well as widespread disintegration between military and ethnic armies fighting for autonomy from the state.
Last month, 1.5 million registered voters out of about 37 million people voted in their districts before Sunday’s election. The National Election Commission said that open fighting between the army and various ethnic armies made voting impossible.
“If ethnic armed groups agree to solve the problem without weapons, ethnic minorities will have a chance to vote and elect ethnic members of parliament,” said U Myo Nyunt, spokesman for the ruling National League for Democracy.
Daw Tin Mar Aung was once a pioneer of the National League for Democracy, serving as a personal associate of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and traveling with her, she collected human rights awards around the world. But Ms. Tin Mar Aung is running as a candidate for a political party representing Rakhine ethnicity in a state stricken by armed conflict. The ethnic parties had hoped to gain in support of the National League for Democracy since their heartbreaking victory in 2015.
Ms Tin Mar Aung said that the Election Commission canceled the vote in parts of Rakhine State.
“It’s not fair, it’s not right, but at least I have 20 percent to work with,” she said. “Other candidates have lost their entire constituency, so those voters have no right. I am really sorry because this is not a democracy. “
Another one million Rohingya Muslims, many of whom had fled a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign three years earlier, never expected to vote in these elections. Many live in now Cramped refugee settlements In neighboring Bangladesh, after burning their villages, while others were confined internment camp.
On the eve of elections, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has maintained her popularity among those who see her as a kind of goddess of democracy. While dozens of new political parties are fielding new candidates, none have the organizational breadth of the National League for Democracy, which rose from the ashes of a crushed student movement in 1988.
Fans of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi say that it is impossible for a civilian leader in just five years – especially one still forced to share power – to overcome decades of conflict of a military dictatorship that has left the country Economy damaged health and education systems.
Supporters say that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who serves the country State consultant Because he is excluded from the presidency by the military-draft constitution, one must tread carefully. On Tuesday, Army Chief General Min Aung Hlaing alleged that the Election Commission was under the influence of the National League for Democracy and complained of several irregularities in the election process.
A government spokesman hit back, accusing the army commander of instability and violating the constitution. On Thursday, just three days before the election, the army issued a statement reminding the public that it is the “guardian” of the country.
In a video posted on Facebook the same day, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi defended her government and the country’s democratic progress.
“As most politicians have said, the system of democracy is not flawless, but it is the best among the systems invented by the people,” she wrote. “Even in a long-term democratic country, there are problems with elections.”
Hannah Bich reported from Sav Nang of Bangkok and Yangon, Myanmar.