Because fair is fair, days after the elections, we have to give credit were credit is due.
In the lead up to the November 8 election, the government — particularly the Union Election Commission — was on the receiving end of a lot of criticism. The voter lists were a particular source of worry for political parties and the media. The deployment of 40,000 deputised ‘election police,’ stringent campaigning rules, and excessive campaign spending by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party were also vehemently criticized.
In short, there was a lot of distrust. Very few believed that the authorities were honest in their intentions. The memories of the 2010 election, when widespread irregularities were reported, were just too fresh to ignore.
Frontier has tried to report in an unbiased manner on the main parties and the efforts of the Union Election Commission. We published a number of critical articles, focusing on some of the issues the UEC was struggling with.
On election day, our reporters witnessed only minor incidents. It was a calm, peaceful day, on which many Myanmar people took the opportunity to exercise their right to vote. And they were clearly happy to do so.
It was also encouraging to experience the level of access we were granted on election day. This in stark contrast to 2010, when government minders were following journalists around and the media had to keep their distance from polling stations.
The day after the election, the first preliminary report by the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections suggested that it had indeed been a good day. The European Union Election Observing Mission and the Carter Center, which deployed some 200 hundred observers nationwide combined, agreed that it has been a successful election so far.
Challenges remain, though. Elections that result in only 75 percent of the representatives chosen democratically, as was the case in Sunday’s polls, do not live up to basic democratic principles. The widespread disenfranchisement of Muslims, particularly Rohingyas, and the NLD’s concession to nationalist pressures by not nominating a single Muslim for Parliament are worrying signs as well. One hopes that the next government refrains from further marginalizing large parts of the population, and finds ways to resolve differences between communities of different faiths.
The political leadership of both the USDP and the NLD would be wise to follow the example of Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, one of the most sensible and humane voices in contemporary Myanmar, who preaches a powerful message of reconciliation over division.
Although election day has come and gone, there is still much work to be done to count votes, resolve complaints, and – trickiest of all – implement the results of the vote. The NLD will face its own challenges. Many qualified people have been rejected from its ranks, and its leadership is imbued with a strong sense of entitlement. A post-election comment by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Channel News Asia that the President would have “no authority” in a NLD-led government directed by her is worrisome, as such an arrangement would be a direct violation of Article 58 and 66 of the constitution.
Let’s hope the winners will be open-minded and work with outside experts to support their bid to run the government. More importantly, the NLD has a moral imperative to join hands with ethnic-minority parties. The last thing Myanmar needs is another upsurge of Bamar dominance, thereby once again fuelling animosity with ethnic minority groups.
Let’s end on a positive note. The Union Government of Myanmar deserves credit for organizing elections that appear to have been honest and credible. Prominent figures in the USDP, most notably acting chairman U Htay Oo, deserve respect for accepting defeat graciously. It is evident that Myanmar still has a long way to go on the path to democracy. But after months of seemingly crumbling reforms and human rights backtracking, it is encouraging to be able to say that a firm step in the right direction was made on 8 November 2015.