By Syed Nazakat in Delhi, India
Dr Tint Swe was worried about the elections in Myanmar. He knew that the military regime would go to any length to tighten its grip over his homeland. A top aide of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and member of the Myanmarese parliament, Swe left his country in the late 1980s and took refuge in India. “I’ve never visited my home since I left my country,” he said.
Swe and many Myanmarese were disappointed when it became evident that the election on November 7 was an eyewash. No one expected a dramatic change after the election, which was seen as an attempt by the military to legitimise its control. However, the release of Suu Kyi on November 14 suggested that the generals were not only confident of their position but also wanted to avoid further confrontation with the popular leader. A day after her unconditional release, Suu Kyi proposed direct talks with the junta and hinted that she would urge the west to end sanctions, as they are hurting the common people.
“She is aware that the military leadership is more powerful than ever and that she doesn’t enjoy the support of all democratic voices in Myanmar,” said K. Yhome, research analyst on Myanmar at Delhi’s Observer Research Foundation. “Her immediate challenge would be to unite pro-democratic leadership on one platform.”
After winning the 1990 elections, Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy had the grand standing to speak as the nation’s sole voice. But that position has been lost with the landslide victory of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.
The junta had planned things so well that the USDP was sure of victory even before the polls. Mizzima News, published by the Myanmarese exiles in India, had reported gross irregularities during the election. “What happened on Sunday [the election day] was more dishonest than we could have imagined,” said Soe Myint, editor-in-chief of Mizzima.
The election is a big jolt to the pro-democracy movement. The winning party will enforce the 2008 constitution, which reserves 25 per cent of seats in parliament for the military, including key posts like presidency. It also bars Suu Kyi from becoming the head of state. Experts said the military-dominated parliament will form three committees to choose the president and the two vice-presidents.
“Suu Kyi’s party boycotted the polls. Other fractions of the movement remained undecided and some contested,” said Yhome. According to observers, there is a glimmer of hope, as many pro-democracy candidates have won the polls. Several world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, condemned the election. While welcoming Suu Kyi’s release, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said the elections are an important step towards national reconciliation. “We have always encouraged them [Myanmar] to take this process forward in a broad-based, inclusive manner,” said Krishna, who was careful not to criticise the junta.
His cautious statement underlined India’s altered foreign policy with regard to Myanmar. For two decades it supported Suu Kyi, who was honoured with the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru Award in 1993. But gradually the focus shifted to the junta. Recently, India signed a security and economic pact with Myanmar. The aim was to secure the 990-mile border and stop northeast insurgents from operating across the border. Like China, India also wants to benefit from Myanmar’s huge oil and gas resources. By courting the junta, India is trying to lure them away from China’s growing influence.