Burma’s parliamentary election Nov. 8 should have been a moment to anticipate with joy: another step in the nation’s emergence from military rule. But democracy is not strictly about the ballot box. It is also about the process — the nature of the competition for power, and whether that political struggle is free, fair and inclusive of all. By this measure, Burma is falling short. Some of the problems are long-standing. Twenty-five percent of parliament seats are reserved for unelected members of the military. The country’s most popular figure, Aung San Suu Kyi, is barred from running for president by a provision in the constitution, written with her in mind, that the military and its allies recently refused to alter.
The regime of generals and former generals who began the transition away from military rule still exert a heavy hand on the political process. This month, President Thein Sein dramatically ousted a rival from the ruling party’s leadership — the rival was speaker of the lower house of parliament and considered a potential future president — in an abrupt and arbitrary purge that appears to have been at the behest of the military. Not very democratic at all.
“We are supposed to be going along the path of democratization but events over the last couple of weeks show that we are not very far along that path yet,” Aung San Suu Kyi said in an interview with Agence France-Presse.