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Submitted by moiuser on 28 November 2021


In principle, elections symbolize the fundamental part of democracy. Elections enable people to exercise their political rights and make choices as to their representatives to take office in state institutions. By casting votes and betting on specific political parties, people make investment for fulfilling their needs and the expectations of their future. From the point of view of society, elections empower people to appoint their representatives or fire those who are unwilling or unable to bring about their interests. There may be times for the people to consent to and accept the government’s limitation on individual liberty when the national security or public order is in jeopardy. This is the reason why people seize the opportunity through elections to influence who exercises the state powers and how.


In practice, democracy is a way to organize collectively binding decisions. State constitutions typically prescribe relevant criteria for practising democracy. The criteria relevant to this article are: (i) participatory decision-making, especially the participation of those to be affected by a decision; (ii) majority decides while protecting the legitimate rights and interests of minorities; (iii) individual freedom has its limits in the freedom of all others; (iv) tolerance and non-violence are fundamental to all social relations; and (v) political parties serve to organize, articulate and represent the interests of different social groups.


These criteria show that other than representation, practising democracy requires subtlety and competency in some key aspects including participatory decision-making/policy-making and implementation; negotiation; management of interests and institutions; compromise; nurturing and applying the political capital and manoeuvring political processes and interlinked changes. If the will of the majority is simply viewed and followed as democracy; populism, majority mandate and personality cult can be misleadingly equated with democracy. This has been the case in a fledgling democracy like Myanmar.


Myanmar is a country standing at the geo-strategically and a geo-economically important junction of Asia and the Indian Ocean. After going through the challenging times of domestic and Western pressures vis-à-vis the building up of political, economic and security strengths undertaken hand-in-hand with the drafting of a constitution that values non-disintegration of the Union and the national solidarity and integrity of territory and sovereignty as the main national causes, Myanmar reinitiated democratic transformation in 2011.


There had been many structural crises throughout the transformation from colonial rule to the sovereign and democratic national government. Notwithstanding some benefits and advances brought forth by the colonial institutions, negative lingering effects were also embedded into the political, economic, security and social structures of Myanmar. The most obvious being the effect of divide-and-rule policy among the diverse ethnic groups and the transfer of civilians into Myanmar to a degree impairing its demographic composition. These past colonial practices followed the logic of consequences with little or no consideration for the socio-cultural impact upon the native population. The socio-cultural impact conjoined with external provocations over time multiplied and transformed into behavioural, administrative, political, institutional (macro and meso levels) and security problems which are beyond the scope of this article. The lingering impacts of colonial legacy are still visible as identity politics and communal conflicts alongside the processes of democratic transformation. In the light of such structural constraints, democratic transformation or practising democracy entails caution in every phase and step against internal and external exploitations. This series of articles first tries to shed light on certain deviations of the previous National League for Democracy (NLD) government from democratic practices in conjunction with the country’s democratic transformation. It, then, assesses the performance of the NLD party and unlawful and terrorist organizations— Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) and National Unity Government (NUG)—from the same perspective.


Section (1)

2020 General Election, the Principle of Participatory Representation and a Fundamental Flaw


The review of NLD’s practices must start with the amendment to the election rules. Much to the displeasure of ethnic political parties, the proposal of the Union Election Commission (UEC) to reduce residency requirement for internal migrants from 180 days to 90 days was approved by the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Union Parliament) dominated by the NLD. This proposal to the election rules was approved despite the objection of fourteen political parties including members of the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) which comprises around 15 ethnic political parties. The NLD’s move at a glance would seem like a measure for out-of-constituency citizens not to lose their voting rights. However, ethnic parties considered it as a blow to their proportion of winning seats in their constituencies. NLD’s preoccupation with a landslide victory and majoritarian mandate for amending the constitution, to have Tatmadaw under the control of the civil power and to consolidate democracy might have led the NLD dominated parliament to overlook the inclusive principle of representation.


As the 2020 general election drew near, observers made various speculations. One of the speculations was that the representatives of Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and some ethnic political parties combined might win over 25 per cent (25 per cent plus) of seats in the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw and if they, together with the 25 per cent Tatmadaw representatives, could come up as a coalition, they could have a chance to form a coalition government. For the NLD, it might have been a (25 per cent plus + 25 per cent) scenario to avoid as much as possible.


Since 16 April 2020, the NLD government had declared COVID-19 as a natural disaster. According to the Carter Center, “a natural disaster is one of the legal grounds upon which elections may be postponed in select(ed) constituencies, along with conditions of insecurity.” On 15 September 2020, 24 political parties out of 92 registered parties—including the USDP which won the second largest seats in the 2015 elections and its allies—submitted a request to the UEC to review the election date which was set for 8 November 2020. The People's Pioneer Party (PPP) also requested to review the election date whereas Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS) requested to postpone the elections. The Arakan National Party (ANP) which won the third-largest seats in the 2015 elections suggested that the current situation should be taken seriously as it was impractical for holding free and fair elections nationwide. On the other hand, some political parties voiced their concerns for political and constitutional crises and suggested that if there had to be any postponement it should be temporary.


Meanwhile, the COVID-19 was in its second wave and the rate of infection was taking up pace. By 20 October 2020, there were 38,502 cases of COVID-19 positive and 945 cases of death. Among regions and states, Yangon Region was the top in both COVID-19 positive cases and deaths throughout the country. On 19 October alone, 773 out of 1171 new positive cases or 66 per cent of new positive cases were reported in Yangon. Until then, 44 townships in Yangon Region were still under stay-at-home restriction. Parts of Mandalay Region, Mon State, Bago Region, Ayeyawady Region and elsewhere were also under stay-at-home restrictions. According to the UEC data, 42 village-tracts in two townships of Bago Regions, 53 village-tracts in six townships of Kayin State, one village-tract in a township in Mon State, nine whole townships and 123 village-tracts and 16 wards in four townships of Rakhine State, six whole townships and seven wards and 125 village-tracts in 17 townships of Shan State, 182 village-tracts in 11 townships of Kachin State, 94 village-tracts in Paletwa Township of Chin State were announced not to hold elections as these constituencies were experiencing “a situation where free and fair elections could not be held”. Regarding the postponement of voting, former UEC spokesperson U Myint Naing said that the commission did so based on the recommendations of the Ministries of Union Government Office, Home Affairs, Defence and others on COVID-19 and security grounds. However, the Spokesperson of Tatmadaw True News Information Team Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said that some of the areas excluded from voting by UEC were different from Tatmadaw’s proposed areas. Despite complaints against the UEC’s unwillingness to postpone the whole election amid rising COVID-19 infections, elections were held in other parts of Myanmar as scheduled following the COVID-19 health guidelines.



Ethnic political parties accused UEC of bias in favour of the ruling NLD party. It was not surprising because the UEC’s decision on postponement of voting was largely in ethnic areas. Despite Yangon’s recent record of 66 per cent of all new infections nationwide, no township in the region was included in the postponement list. The UEC postponed voting in States such as Rakhine State and Shan State, where only ethnic parties had the strong tendency of winning seats while going ahead with the schedule in every township in Yangon. The postponed constituencies represent the ethnic population of 1.5 million out of Myanmar’s 38 million eligible voters. In such a manner, the UEC had tapped lightly but effectively purged the USDP and ethnic parties out of their (25 per cent plus +25 per cent) scenario and eliminated their chance of nominating the head of state and forming a coalition government. Although the postponed constituencies could join state and sub-state power branches through by-elections, their representatives by then would have already lost the chance to participate in electing the president and forming the government. Even if the NLD and UEC manipulated the elections by the rule, the compliance of such election results to the principle of participatory representation was highly questionable.


Other electoral landscapes revealed that fairness for all of those competing was questionable. Compared with the UEC led by U Tin Aye (30 March 2011 – 30 March 2016), the NLD appointed UEC was criticized for not engaging enough with key stakeholders—including political parties, observer groups, civil society and the media. Very limited engagement means that the stakeholders could not adequately discuss their concerns or make their inputs.


The refusal of UEC led by U Hla Thein to change the code of conduct of political parties to ban the use of Bogyoke Aung San’s image turned him from a national independence hero to a party hero, again affecting representation. In broadcasting campaign speeches on state media, the UEC censored what is considered to be inappropriate. For example, the National Democratic Force Party referring to the NLD’s huge current majority in parliament as a one-party system and calling for a change from the first-past-the-post system to proportional representation was censored. The NLD government had constantly used the state media to promote its policies and success stories. The UEC’s censorship showed that the NLD Party could not tolerate different opinions even in a short campaign speech delivered once every five years. Such measures show that there was no level playing field between NLD and other political parties in their competition for the 2020 general election.


The erroneous tendency of UEC was also evident. According to Frontier Myanmar, the commission was criticized for major errors in the voters' list during the 2018 by-elections. It was a major concern for the 2020 general election. According to the UEC member U Myint Naing, 200,000 people out of 6.6 million who had checked the voters list sought to make corrections whereas another 65,000 people raised their concerns about the names on the list. After the elections, irregularities were reported and some political parties submitted objections to the UEC. After scrutinizing the voters' list of 315 townships, the new UEC appointed by the State Administration Council found 11,305,390 voting irregularities, with 4,869,427 people voting without national registration cards. Such flaw in the 2020 general election, whether it was deliberate or not, was the fundamental flaw for democracy.


 In brief, although elections are the tools for complementing and strengthening the essence of democracy, the 2020 general elections demonstrated wrongful conduct which was undertaken in all possible ways to ensure the monopoly of political power by a political party or a group of people instead of ascertaining the whole people’s aspirations rightly and fairly.


Section (2)


Evaluating the Two Previous Governments: An Institutional Perspective


From the institutional perspective, there are decision- making/policy-making institutions and decision- implementing/policy-implementing institutions. Basically, many relevant state institutions are involved in upstream and downstream decision-making/policy- making and implementations. Thus, it is not unusual for some institutions to take part in both decision-making/ policy-making and implementation. Depending on the issue on the table, state actors have to take into account the opinions and inputs from non-state actors, including political parties and non-governmental organizations, and public opinion. For a country like Myanmar struggling with structural constraints left behind by colonial rule, Tatmadaw represents an important state actor which is almost impossible to be left out of decision-making/policy-making. The structural constraints manifest themselves as challenges in the peace process, constitutional amendment process and other nation-building processes or national community formation processes.


Ex-President U Thein Sein initiated major political, economic and legal reforms, improved human rights records and initiated discussions for a constitutional amendment to the surprise of many. To strengthen his reform dynamics, U Thein Sein extended the invitation to everyone with particular attention to previously uncooperative individuals and groups to participate as positive forces in democratic transformation. Backed by actions, U Thein Sein was able to convince the NLD, the main uncooperative force during the period of State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), 88 Generation Students and ethnic political parties to coalesce around democratic transformation as the national cause. In this sense, U Thein Sein, mainly through a liaison minister, built confidence with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Later she became the Chairperson of Rule of Law and Tranquillity Committee in Pyithu Hluttaw by participating in the 2012 by-elections. The capacity gave her a first-hand chance to learn how a government function. By assigning Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as the Chair of Letpadan Investigation Commission along with two representatives of 88 Generation Students, U Thein Sein allowed her to manage interests while making his upstream and downstream decision-making more inclusive. On the governmental side, various reform measures were coordinated and sustained by six ministries of the President Office, the ministers of which also acted as civil-military interface. U Thein Sein also ensured the support of the military for his reform measures. With Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), formal and informal meetings were held to lubricate ceasefire, peace process and national reconciliation. In other words, U Thein Sein backed his government with governmental and non-governmental institutions in decision-making and in rallying political capital behind reform measures.


National reconciliation/peace process with EAOs and initiatives for the constitutional amendment was among U Thein Sein’s pragmatic but cautious nation- building endeavours. U Thein Sein himself nurtured political capital by expressing care and building trust through formal and informal meetings with EAOs and political parties. As a result, eight EAOs signed the NCA during the tenure of U Thein Sein. For constitutional amendment, the 109-membered Constitutional Review Joint Committee formed by the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw made a general conclusion for considering a necessary amendment to enable an applicable degree of autonomy by avoiding too weak or too extreme centralization. On the executive side, U Thein Sein formed another constitutional review committee which suggested capacity-building for the state and region governments, decentralizing the management of Union ministries to subsidiary bodies at States and Regions, and amending the Union legislative list and State/Region legislative list with regard to resource and revenue sharing. The committee also suggested a degree of authority for the State/Region government to allow investment. In pursuing mutually agreeable changes together with political parties and EAOs, U Thein Sein was able to maintain security and stability. Matters pertaining to security, stability and defence of the country were thoroughly discussed within the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC) and policies were laid down and implemented accordingly.


In preparation for the 2015 general election, U Thein Sein engaged in 14-party talks, 6-party talks and other multi-stakeholder talks as early as October 2014. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi reportedly sought 4-party talks among the President, Speaker of Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, C-in-C and herself as the representative of the people. Among ethnic parties, Chin Progressive Party considered four-party talks to be inadequate to represent ethnic voices and made a parliamentary motion for more inclusion. U Thein Sein preferred multi-stakeholder talks in order to build confidence and agree on national causes for transformation. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi reportedly considered such multi-stakeholder talks as show-offs with no way out of the impasse. However, these talks agreed on pursuing the peace process, national reconciliation, constitutional amendment, free and fair elections and post-election stability. These moves were indicative of U Thein Sein’s scrupulous measures for the peaceful transfer of power to ensure security and stability.


The constitutional amendment was one of the key campaigns promises NLD made for the 2015 general election. Many domestic and foreign observers usually point to the constitutional provisions of 25 percent Tatmadaw members in the Union Parliament and Tatmadaw’s continued role in politics as major barriers to the advancement of democracy. However,none of these can be seen as separated from the lingering structural constraints. In fact, these are institutional checks against the lingering structural constraints. According to the 2008 Constitution, various representative groups—the then ruling NLD Party, the military, the USDP, and ethnic and other parties of minority representation—must come up with a collectivity of more than seventy-five per cent(75-plus per cent barrier) to effect structural changes like constitutional amendment. The majority mandate is of little or no utility if there is no real sense of the institutional infrastructure and implied consensus. Rather than the majority mandate, negotiation, moderation, confidence-building, compromise and competency in nurturing and applying the political capital and manoeuvring political processes and interlinked changes are the real determinants for making meaningful progress in nation-building processes or structural changes.


Manoeuvring nation-building processes and bringing about structural changes are of political and security nature. Political fallouts in these processes can have security implications. In case of political fallout with serious security implication(s), the burden of restoring security and order will fall back upon the Tatmadaw and mature Western democracies are easy to criticize. Putting aside the criticisms, local populations, soldiers and other fighters will have to bear the cost of political fallouts. Against this backdrop, Tatmadaw will have an active role in national politics until a functioning federal union and lasting peace are put in place. Until then, the officials concerned of the Tatmadaw, alongside elected representatives, will have to continue to participate actively in both decision- making/policy-making and implementing issues of political nature. As a political system can only go as far as security conditions can allow, Tatmadaw will ensure a degree of political stability for a democratic transition involving structural changes before it can safely shift its focus more on security matters.


The NLD taking control of the executive and the legislature (March 2016-January 2021) from the USDP after a landslide election victory in November 2015 was a major phase of democratic transformation. The C-in-C pledged to “do what is best in cooperation with the new government”. Given the infancy of NLD’s administrative and legislative experience apart from opposition politics, the C-in-C was giving a clear message that the NLD government would have Tatmadaw’s support as long as they could agree upon a common understanding of what is best. Rather than building common understanding, the NLD might have interpreted its majority position in the parliament as a mandate enough for making decisions and taking actions on behalf of the people. With this majority mandate, perceived or real, the NLD government had not invested enough in political capital or on building common understanding throughout its tenure but continued to rely heavily on the party for infrastructural support. May it be in the executive, the legislature or the party, the NLD government could not escape from the personality cult of the then de facto leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.