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“Myanmar’s 2015 Election and Beyond: Previews, Prospects and Post-Election Scenarios”

  

Myanmar’s 2015 Election and Beyond:

Previews, Prospects and Post-Election Scenarios”

Tuesday, 4th August 2015 at 09.00 – 11.45 a.m.

Registration from 8.30 a.m.

   

The Chumbhot-Pantip Conference Room, 4th Floor Prajadhipok-Rambhaibarni Building

Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

 .............................................................................................

Program 

8.30 – 09.00 a.m.                    Registration and Coffee

09.00 – 09.10 a.m.                  Opening Remarks

                                                Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ake Tangsupvattana
                                                Dean, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

                                                Mr. Ken Koyanagi
                                                Editor-At-Large, Nikkei Asian Review

09.10 – 10.50 a.m.                  Speakers:

                                                Dr. Richard Horsey
                                                Independent Political Analyst and Myanmar Adviser to International Crisis Group
                                               "Overview: key issues in the pre- and post-election outlook"

                                                Dr. Kyaw Yin Hlaing  
                                                Center for Diversity and National Harmony, Myanmar
                                                "Demographics, diversity and view from the states & regions"

                                                 Dr. Tin Maung Maung Than
                                                 Visiting Senior Fellow, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore
                                                 "Election politics and aftermath: the economic perspective"

 

                                                 Discussant

                                                 Ms. Gwen Robinson
                                                 Senior Fellow, ISIS Thailand, and Chief Editor of the Nikkei Asian Review

 

                                                 Moderator: 
                                                 Mr. Kavi Chongkittavorn
                                                 Senior Fellow, ISIS Thailand

 10.50 – 11.30 a.m.                  Open Forum


...................................................................................................

VIdeos: Myanmar’s 2015 Election and Beyond: Previews, Prospects and Post-Election Scenarios

Myanmar’s 2015 Election and Beyond: Previews, Prospects and Post-Election Scenarios 1/3: 
www.youtube.com/watch

Myanmar’s 2015 Election and Beyond: Previews, Prospects and Post-Election Scenarios 2/3: 
www.youtube.com/watch

Myanmar’s 2015 Election and Beyond: Previews, Prospects and Post-Election Scenarios 3/3: 
www.youtube.com/watch


If you wish more detailed information concerning this seminar please click 
http://www.facebook.com/ISISThailand

...................................................................................................................


Opening Remarks by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ake Tangsupvattana

 

Myanmar is preparing for its first free election in 25 years. On November 8, most eyes and much hope will be pinned on Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). But despite her popularity, Aung San Suu Kyi cannot become President, as the Constitution bans her. The question remains: who will run as the NLD’s candidate for President? The current ruling USDP party is likely to face heavy losses, but could it prevent an NLD majority? And what effect will ethnic parties have on the election outcome—how will they align?

 

While much is still up in the air, many things in Myanmar will stay the same: the military-drafted Constitution still guarantees that military representatives will hold 25% of the seats in Parliament.

 

Myanmar’s gradual embrace of democracy should be lauded. The recent progress that it has made would have been unimaginable a few years ago. However, the election brings much uncertainty, and a great deal of work still needs to be done to ensure that Myanmar’s democratic gains are consolidated.

 

 

Mr. Ken Koyanagi

 

Nikkei Asian Review is very interested in what is going to happen after the elections, because so many things are at stake. Will there be a successful and peaceful transition of power from the military authoritarian regime to civilian democratic regime? Will the election be successfully achieved as a tool for consensus, rather than an opportunity for divide? Will Myanmar achieve economic development under free democratic society?

 

This is important because many Asian political leaders claim that there is an Asian model, a mixture of authoritarian and democratic political system. But as press, Nikkei Asian Review believes in freedom of speech. Will Myanmar have freedom and the ability to govern itself at the same time? And will Myanmar successfully achieve a federal state of ethnic society? This is a big challenge for Myanmar.

 

 

Speakers

 

Dr. Richard Horsey: “Overview: key issues in the pre- and post-election outlook”

 

The significance of the upcoming elections in Myanmar is due to the fact that they will take place in a country that is in the middle of a transition. Therefore, when looking at the elections, the context of present-day Myanmar must be taken into consideration. A lot of deep historical divisions (such as ethnic minorities/ethnic majorities, rich/poor, and older leagues/democratic forces) have been baked into the political context of Myanmar over many decades. Thus, the question for the election is not only whether it will be technically sound, but also how it will contribute to easing those divisions and uniting the country. The key measure of the success of this transition is its ability to bring the country together.

 

The current situation is not a particularly bright picture. The peace process is poised at a very critical juncture: bringing together more than 20 different armed groups around a single table to agree on a peace deal is an incredibly difficult task. The success of the peace process is predicated on finding new ways to resolve differences, consensus and unity. It remains very unclear whether the deal can be done.

 

Divisions can also be seen in the political parties. The ruling USDP party itself is deeply divided into different factions, and there is tension between the military and the USDP factions. Divisions exist for the opposition side as well, with the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi — the leader of the democratic forces — on the one side, and the 1988 Students on the other. In the past couple of years, some of those divisions have been eased, though, as the two groups jointly campaigned for constitutional changes, including the change that would allow Aung San Suu Kyi to be President. But very recently, when the NLD released its list of candidates for the elections, more than a dozen NLD senior leaders were not included. This raises questions on the pro-democracy side.

 

A resurgence of Buddhist nationalism is a religious division. For a country under dictatorship with very low freedom, there are traditionally two powers in the country: the military and the Sangha, which enjoys a very powerful position. In the rural areas of Myanmar, local monks wield the moral influences and even legal powers. With the country opening up, the Sangha might feel that modernity and secularism are threats. As the economic growth comes, what does this mean for the traditional values of the society and the guardians of those values? This has led to the narrative of Buddhism under threat and to this national sentiment.

 

Currently, there are three main power blocks in the elections: the USDP, the NLD, and the ethnic minority parties. The USDP has high expectations about its performance. The NLD feels that it should and could regain the massive landslide that it achieved in the aborted 1990 elections. The ethnic parties are aiming to get 25% of the seats. While it is unclear how the election is going to play out, it is clear that none of those expectations are likely to be met. The USDP leadership thinks it will do well, but almost everybody else thinks it will do badly—exactly how badly is the subject of much discussion and speculation. As for the NLD, it is very difficult in this environment to repeat its 1990 success. The NLD will most likely become the single largest party in the Parliament, but whether or not it will have an outright majority is very much an open question and a difficult task to achieve. The ethnic parties are aiming for only 25%, but that is still very difficult, seeing how they achieved only about 15% of the seats in the 1990 and 2010 elections.

 

There are big challenges in the general picture. The security context could prevent the elections from taking place for security reasons. The election commission at the local level also lacks capacity and is rather inexperienced in the mechanics of election or principles of democracy. And what comes after the elections? Because Aung San Suu Kyi is barred from presidency, it is very uncertain who can be President. There are not many other obvious candidates with experience and seniority that Aung San Suu Kyi would back, both within the NLD and outside. And since the President selects the cabinet, we do not know what the cabinet will look like either.

 

Although we do not know what the future will hold, we know that Myanmar will waddle through, like it has always done.

 

 

Dr. Tin Maung Maung Than: “Election politics and aftermath: the economic perspective”

 

What are the elections for? If elections were as simple as selecting the winners and let them form a government and then everything would be fine, then we would not have this forum. In the history of Myanmar’s elections, did the outcome really change the game or benefit the people? That is questionable. In the 1950s, the first election was during Civil War, and the opposition went underground. After a few years, the ruling party AFPFL fell apart. Then, the 1960s election saw the NLD’s landslide victory, but they did not last long. Two years later, a military coup took place, followed by a lot of instability. In the 1970s and the 1980s, many elections were held, which also resulted in the bankruptcy of the state. In the 1990s election, there was a lot of debate whether the promise was true or false or people went back on their promises. The 2010 election was called half-election by some, because the NLD was not there. So what do we have for the 2015 elections? The world expects too much. The elections will be a disappointment for many people, because it will not bring liberal democracy, which is still a very long way in Myanmar.

 

The quick question is: will Myanmar be more governable, or less? Governability is more an issue than who wins or who runs. Even if the nationwide peace agreement is signed before the elections, there are still issues that will carry on even after the elections.

 

As for the economy, Myanmar does not have a model. Myanmar has experimented in the past in this political economy: coming from the old colonial resource extraction, market economy, and exploitation by the earliest MNCs, then globalization, and coming me back full circle to welcome the MNCs. It then experimented with socialism where everybody was poor, including the state, and then it moved on to the so-called market economy, which is euphemism for capitalism. And then there were problems with legacy of the past, the lingering notions about equality and socialism. Since Myanmar opened up and became more internationalized, there are issues about foreign direct investments, one of the two things upon which Myanmar’s economy is predicated (the other is trade). That is the standard new liberal economic regime.

 

In a country where there are so many information gaps, Myanmar has many advisors and visitors, from a whole spectrum of liberal economists to those who are angling for free markets and free trade. Hundreds of people are marching in and out of Naypyidaw and Yangon with different ideas. They have high expectations, but perhaps it is only out of goodwill that this government says they are going to reduce poverty. Of course, that is the best thing any government can say, but reducing poverty is one of the most difficult jobs in the world, and there are many unsuccessful elements—money is not the answer, raising education takes a long time, and the so-called market will kill off people when prices plummet. Poverty reduction is about creating jobs—but then how?

 

Foreign investors are waiting to know what the new game is. But there has to be continuity; you cannot break contracts because you change a government—which would be a case based on whether you are prejudiced against certain nations or not. In Myanmar, we have a political problem in which we believe that everything to do with some groups or countries is bad because of what happened in the past. Although that is not the way to run the economic regime, you cannot say that to the people on the grass who have had their lands confiscated and their jobs disappeared.

 

Supply-demand management is also a problem. How much can the government subsidize for the rice? Now that protectionism is rising, labor has been unshackled and is demanding things, trying to make up for the past 50 years. All sides are right. Employers cannot afford to pay more; workers cannot afford a decent meal. Workers’ pay is another issue that a lot of people might be pushing for, but the country is not rich enough. Of course, there are a lot of opportunities, but they are only for certain people with certain skills. There are others who are doomed to be lower paid.  

 

 

Dr. Kyaw Yin Hlaing: “Demographics, diversity and view from the states & regions”

 

When you look at Myanmar, there are lots of factors we have to pay attention to, among which are the political parties. The first problem about them is that political leaders keep making mistakes. Though recently, the NLD has done all the right things that people really appreciated: going around the neighborhoods and checking the Buddhist registration with people directly, inviting local constituencies to nominate, and asking people whether anyone would like to represent NLD and apply for candidacy. The NLD will do well, though it is not so clear how. In Kachin, they will do well mainly because the Kachin political party is very weak and the people will not vote for USDP. In other areas like Mandalay and Yangon, it will be difficult for other candidates to go against the NLD too.

 

Although the current administration has done a good job in terms of opening up the country, it has also not done well in terms of meeting the public expectations it had previously raised. The discrepancies between what people think they should be getting and what they actually got is still very huge. This disappointment will lead people to find alternatives. Meanwhile, other non-NLD political parties outside ethnic areas have problems with money and finding good candidates, making it difficult for them to have significant effects on the outcome.

 

Secondly, the political parties lack qualified politicians. To keep the reform process on track and also to move forward, Myanmar does need more politicians. Thirdly, the parties do not have clear policies. Even the NLD does not have clear policies when it comes to economics or poverty alleviation, but it has this “brand” (Aung San Suu Kyi) which is what people want and which other parties do not have. Expectations are really high, and although the NLD might not meet the expectations, they have Aung San Suu Kyi, and that will help.

 

As for the peace agreement, the meetings went very well, and both sides are quite optimistic about it. In principle, they have reached their agreement and almost everything is resolved; they only need to spend a lot of time on the issue of all-inclusiveness. This peace process can have a huge effect on the election in some areas (not in the entire country) such as Shan state, a multi-ethnic state that can be a microcosm of the entire Myanmar. In Shan state, there are many ethnic armed groups and militia groups, and these groups cannot be trusted without a national ceasefire agreement.

 

For all ethnic leaders and the government, on-stage and off-stage performances are totally different. For more than 60 years, neither side has had sufficient trust for each other, especially in the systems and institutions. However, they understand that a civil war would hurt the country, and they and the army all want peace. We have to be optimistic.

 

In Myanmar, state-society relations lack real assistance and a good liberal mechanism. Civil society has tried to do right thing by raising funding and working with each other. But because there is little coordination between state and society, both sides are doing the same things separately, which is ineffective. The future government needs to create a better mechanism to deal with the civil society.

 

In this election, the Muslims will not be able to vote due to their unclear citizenship status. The problem is not that the government does not want to give them the citizenship, but it is the name issue. While the government insists on the name Bengali, the Muslims insist on being called Rohingya. If they had taken the name, their citizenship verification would have been processed very quickly. But right now, it is too late, and the situation in Rakhine state is very complicated. The government is trying to improve the situation, but they have to try to do a lot more.

 

Lastly, there is a Sangha organization called Mabata, which few people really understand and most people treat as homogenous and united organization, but actually Mabata is more like a network that wants to promote Buddhism. Technically, they are not to be involved in politics, but individually some monks are openly supporting USDP while others the NLD. They will not come out to say who they support, but they watch for those who benefit them most. In the rural areas, they talk to candidates about who will do what for their constituencies. The network itself probably does not have a unanimous position that could significantly affect the elections around the country, but possibly only in some areas where they have influence.

 

To wrap up, Myanmar is still going through transition, so the situation is still very uncertain, but there probably will not be a U-turn anytime soon. (For that to happen, there has to be a civil war, which is highly unlikely. And the case in which some political parties and civil societies gang up against the army is just as unlikely.) The NLD is very careful about the way they comment on the army; they seem to understand that they must have a working relation with the army for a stable political transition. People, all stakeholders, and the country, do not really want things to go around, and try to ensure that things go forward.

 

 

Ms. Gwen Robinson

 

What was most striking about my ninety-minute interview with President Thein Sein last week was that, unlike previous interviews, he spoke like a leader who was not intending to go anywhere. Many people think he has no chance at being new President, but the reforms that he was talking about and the way he was talking about them suggested he was implementing things that maybe he would see through. He made it clear that he had age and health issues, and he was not particularly pushing to go for another term. But Thein Sein indicated he would be willing to serve another term, while people expected him to fade quietly.

 

Meanwhile, it is extraordinary that nobody has any idea how well or how badly the big parties would do, especially the ruling USDP. Some experts expect they will get fewer seats; others say the system the USDP has is so entrenched in local communities and impounded in various forms that one cannot underestimate the power of the local political allegiance. Possibly, they could do much better than expected, but right now they are looking like old Myanmar, associated with bad connotations of the dark days of military rule, while their images should be setting up or consolidating the first traces of new Myanmar and the transition. Meanwhile, the NLD is riding entirely on the allure of Aung San Suu Kyi, the icon of the party. They very much depend on her as the brand of the party; without her, they remain faceless and nameless.

 

Now candidate lists are published ahead of the August 14 deadline, declaring who is running for what seat. The NLD’s published lists of 1090 candidates reflected its decision to shun the generation’s prominent figures, and we have not focused enough on this. Also, there is a steady implosion within the USDP. The rivalry between President Thein Sein and Shwe Mann, the powerful house speaker, is dividing the party. These trends are changing the parameters and showing much more fragmented political scene than we thought. What looks like a simple analysis—USDP versus NLD—is actually becoming a lot more complicated.

 

The elections also have impacts on investor sentiment and perceptions of business. In the last six months we have seen increasing interest in Myanmar. Initially, foreign investors were very hesitant, even with the sanctions eased. Many multinationals are quite cautious and now more concerned about the legislative agenda. There is a dawning of realization that we are not just talking about the elections in November, but also about the critical time from end of August to next June before crucial bills will be passed, including critical company laws dictating the ways companies can operate. Plans to launch stock market in Myanmar was supposed to be around now, but has been delayed possibly until end of November (three weeks after the election). Whether that will happen or not, the government is very keen to do this before its term officially ends (on 31 January).

 

 

Open Forum

 

Public Question #1: What are the economic platforms of the USDP and the NLD? And if they do not have the platforms, what are your views on the economic development strategy for Myanmar in the years to come? And are they for social democratic welfare state or liberal democratic capitalist economy?

 

Dr. Tin Maung Maung Than: The NLD could be seen as a social democrat in terms of economic policy. They would be much more critical about foreign investment. It depends again on growth, equity, and stability. But there will be no going back to socialism, of course.

 

Dr. Richard Horsey: Not one of the 89 parties running has published a manifesto. In fact, none of them really have any details about their policies at all. The USDP has no economic policy, just like it does not have policies on other issues. The NLD neither, but since they have been pushed and asked many times, they have come up with something of a policy which has been made semi-public. It is a good document about what they think is important in the economy and it is about how you need equitable growth, growth that respects the environment, and balance of local and foreign investments. All these are good things, but it gives no indication of how you balance priorities and come up with policies and how to achieve it. There is a lack of vision for what kind of economy Myanmar wants to have and how to get it.

 

Dr. Kyaw Yin Hlaing: There is only one party that has released a clear economic policy, which is quite ironic, because the National Unity Party is formerly the Burma Socialist Program Party. The National Unity Party has a clear policy of social welfare state. This is different from other parties, which will just tell you what you want to hear (that they support free market economy), and cannot really articulate their economic policies in a very concrete manner.

 

Ms. Gwen Robinson: I did contact the person in charge of drawing up the NLD’s economic policy, and he told me he had never done it before. The voters out there are not expecting and not asking about economic policies. I cannot see further outcry for more details on policies.

 

 

Public Question #2: We did not actually hear anything about the military themselves as an institution. Is it fair to say that the military is the only institution that holds the country and the government together? If that is the case, what do you see in the future? Is there a new generation of military that would have a different way of thinking and accept a diminished role of the military? Will that have any consequences on the unity of the country?

 

Dr. Tin Maung Maung Than: So far the commander-in-chief said that he would ensure there would be a free and fair election and abide by the result. He also said it is imperative that there be peace and disarmament of the ethnic armed organizations before the military could consider it safe and stable enough. It may take five years or ten years, you never know. The military’s economy issue is a constitutional issue too. It is intact and will be intact until 2020.

 

Dr. Richard Horsey: We have to remember where we came from five years ago: a country where the military held 100% of the power. Therefore, they are the one to initiate and back the transition. It is their idea and they supported it. It could not have happened without them. I think they have an end goal in mind: a country where the military is incredibly powerful and respected, not because of constitutional prerogatives or guns, but because it is a large institution the country needs. They see the future where they are outside of the legislature and politics and do not require the constitutional privileges that they now have, but they are very unclear what the path looks like from the current situation to that end goal. I think they are comfortable with that end goal, in the sense that it will enable them to be the standard military—a modern professional army that is not involved in politics and internal fighting but is there to protect the nation. If they could get to that stage, they will have better international military relations: access to international training and western weapon system.

 

Dr. Kyaw Yin Hlaing: We have started to see the military’s role diminished five years ago. Since around 1962, they were all we saw on TV or newspaper. From 1988 to 2010, they were everywhere. But now we hardly see them as much as we used to. They are playing less and less role in our society. In all areas, except Kachin state, what people said is we do not have to be afraid of the soldiers anymore. A woman in Shan state told me they do not see them that much anymore, but last month a soldier from a nearby battalion borrowed her motorcycle and a week later he returned it in a seriously damaged condition. She went to talk to his commander, who then apologized and paid for the repair expenses. People in the past would not have done that. We have already started to

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