Saturday, 31 March 2012

Why Myanmar's expected democracy will not be soon and not for everyone

Ahead of elections in Myanmar tomorrow, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is not optimistic about the way it will be conducted.
Speaking at the final news conference before the poll, the pro-democracy advocate highlighted voting irregularities discovered – such as thousands of names of dead people on the electoral roll – and intimidation that stopped her party holding rallies during the campaign.
“I don’t think we can consider it a genuinely free and fair election if we take into consideration what has been going on in the last couple of months, but still as we wish to work towards national reconciliation we will try to tolerate what has happened,” Suu Kyi told reporters.

Wa State militaries
As the world is watching and countries are eager to move onward lifting sanctions, seventeen parties will field candidates. The by-elections however will only fill vacancies of those elected in 2010 polls who became ministers and deputy ministers. This concerns 45 seats, 43 of 664 seats both in Lower House (440) and Upper House (224), or fewer than 5 percent in the bicameral national assembly, and 2 regional assembly seats.
Assuming the by-elections will be favourable for Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), to form a minority opposition, she and her party members will face hard times achieving any social reforms. Myanmar is the biggest country in S-E Asia, it is rich in natural resources such as petroleum, timber, tin, antimony, zinc, copper, tungsten, lead, coal, limestone, precious stones, natural gas and hydropower, yet the country has been left in an underdeveloped state since the military coup in 1962. It is currently the only country in the Asean which does not have ATM's.
Myanmar ranks as no. 5 lowest GDP per capita in Asia with 804 USD, just above the levels of Bangladesh, Timor-Leste, Nepal and Afghanistan.
Myanmar is also one of the most ethnically-diverse countries in the world with key non-Myanmar ethnic groups demanding equality and/or their own governance. Big corporations are eager to join Myanmar's efforts towards a market economy. Time will tell if an 'institutionalised' Suu Kyi will 'sell' better to legitimise tricky actions by the military in power, rather than that it will bring Myanmar a real step forward towards democracy. General elections are planned to be held in 2015, which will be the first opportunity for more radical reforms needed for a democratic roadmap.
Quite a few Myanmar people will not be able to vote tomorrow; this includes hundreds of thousand refugees living in surrounding countries and 2 million people working in Thailand, where they carry out unskilled or low skilled labour.
A less well known group which is much more remote from any democratic rights are the people  who live under the unquestioned authority of the so-called Wa State.
The Wa State has formed a de facto independent state in Myanmar, and is the most heavely armed of the 20 ethnic rebel groups.
The Wa Special Region 2 of Myanmar (the Wa State) is made up of two territories, or a total area of 17,000 square kilometers. Wa population estimates range from 400,000 to 700,000 people. The southern region borders Thailand. The Wa State leaders mostly belong to the Wa minority. The defacto capital is Pangkham.
After the Communist Party of Burma lost control of its bases in central Myanmar in the late 1960s, it re-established itself in the northeast including Wa State, with the support of China. The Wa, like other ethnic groups were fighting for autonomy from Myanmar, and supported the Communist party of Burma.

Here's a Wa State News broadcast after the commercial:

The Wa State politics, economics and culture are on a small scale very similar to those of China.
The Wa State's official language is Mandarin and the government is a Central Committee. They regard themselves as a semi-souvereign nation more or less modeled after old school China. Their relation with the Myanmar central government is that of a fragile cease-fire agreement where they recognize the central government’s rule over all of Myanmar, but that's only on paper. The United Wa State Army (UWSA) has  30,000 soldiers and is according to the US State Department the largest narcotics trafficking organization in Southeast Asia. The UWSA cultivates vast areas of land for the opium poppy which is later refined to heroin. It also controls some 80% of Burma's equally lucrative trade in methamphetamine pills, a cheap and highly addictive drug better known in Asia by its Thai name yaba, or crazy medicine. Together, these businesses earn the UWSA's Elite commanders and their associates up to $550 million a year, according to TIME magazine estimates made in 2002. Today the UWSA reportedly controls such companies as the Myanmar May Flower Group and, through it, a large private bank. Inevitably the Wa leaders grabbed a hefty piece of the action for themselves. The Myanmar May Flower Group used to own Yangon Airways, at that time one of the country's two domestic airlines. In 2010 all flights were suspended, since their commercial transport license had been withdrawn by the Myanmar government, motivated by earlier anti drug related sanction by the US.

The United Wa State Party slogan is: “Unity under the leadership of the Central Party under secretary comrade Bao Youxiang”. Little is known about Boa Youxiang who prefers to be called Chairman Bao. Few outsiders have met him..
In 2002 two journalist from Time magazine were permitted an interview, read the full story here.
As puts it: "From the currency, cell phones, Chinese network or China’s postal codes, in Wa state there isn’t a place without Chinese commodities". As such it's a perfect platform for Chinese involvement to get it's share in the anticipated economic growth.

In Myanmar and in Wa State in particular, there is little hope for democracy in the near future. There's still a long way to go, hopefully Aung San Suu Kyi (67) may live to see her aspirations come true.


  1. The prerequisites for the success of democracy are morality, education and socio-economico-political consciousness. Leaders especially must be people of high moral character, otherwise the welfare of society will be jeopardized. guarantor loans



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