Leading article: A travesty – but Burma's election should not be totally written off

Share
Related Topics

The election to be held in Burma tomorrow deserves all the cynicism that outside observers have been throwing at it.

Twenty years ago, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy shocked the country's military rulers by winning 80 per cent of the vote. That was not supposed to happen then, and the junta has taken elaborate precautions to ensure that there is no chance at all of it happening now. It has drawn the rules in such a way as to guarantee the military a quarter of the seats in the new parliament; the two main parties are proxies for the military, and Ms Suu Kyi's NDL is excluded because it refused to ditch her.

Any prospect of democracy dawning in Burma as a result of these elections can be ruled out. The immediate political outlook looks as bleak as the country's experience of the recent past. The most that can probably be hoped for is that, once the sham voting is over, Ms Suu Kyi's long years of house arrest come to an end. That would be scant consolation for an electoral victory ruthlessly extinguished – a living martyrdom is no substitute for the exercise of power democratically won. Yet the political situation could be just a fraction less black and white than it appears.

That the junta has decided to hold any elections at all can be interpreted in different ways. At worst, it is a ploy to provide continued military rule a veneer of legitimacy – in the eyes of Burma's own people and those of the world. And if the junta believes that a travesty of an election will confer international acceptability, it must be proved wrong.

At best, though, this election might be seen as a first tentative step towards a measure of pluralism. The NDL may not be taking part, but the National Democratic Force, which broke away from it, is – as are several other groupings. The political palette is almost an unqualified monotone, but not quite. Rates of participation, the conduct of the poll and, more particularly, the count will need to be scrutinised carefully. There is a possibility that the results could divulge more about the state of Burma than its present rulers would like.

For elections pose risks, even when they are held in tightly regimented countries and hedged about with all the precautions defensive leaders can mobilise. Nor is Burma as politically moribund as it often appears. It is only three years since pro-democracy campaigners and Buddhist monks dared to mount open protests. That the demonstrations were brutally suppressed does not mean that the aspirations voiced then have gone away.

For the military regime, the greater risk will not be Sunday's election, but the aftermath. As elections from Ukraine to Kenya to Iran have shown, the opportunity to vote can raise expectations that may threaten the status quo, and a result that seems to betray those expectations may very quickly become incendiary. Rather than providing a carefully controlled outlet for popular frustrations, a misfired election can have precisely the opposite effect.

This is hardly the first time that hopes, however faint, have been raised about the possibility of a freer and more democratic Burma. Popular protests have been hailed; apparent hints from the ruling generals over-interpreted. Each time, those hopes have been dashed, and there are not many more grounds for optimism now.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

C# Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, MVC-4, HTML5) London

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Web Develop...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Ellen E Jones
Scientists have discovered the perfect cheese for pizzas (it's mozzarella)  

Life of pie: Hard cheese for academics

Simmy Richman
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution