Myanmar sees first democratic election in fifty years

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Monday served as a historic moment for the small southeast Asian country of Myanmar when hundreds of new democratically elected government officials were sworn in for the first time.

The officials were elected last November in the first free and fair election in 25 years, and the transition to the new government is the first time in a full half a century that the country hasn’t been under military rule.

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been under the rule of a military junta since 1962, since a military coup brought the country under its control.

Last November, the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won a vast majority of the contested seats in the two-house parliament.

Although popular support for the NLD was huge, giving the party over 80 percent of the elected positions, many were still concerned that the military would interfere and refuse to relinquish control.

Those fears were assuaged today when the inaugural session of the Parliament in capital Nay Pyi Taw occurred without a hitch.

As lawmakers congregated for their first meeting, they celebrated the historic occasion with jubilant dancing and singing.

Although the military still controls a full quarter of the parliament seats by default, the new government is still thoroughly under the control of the NLD and its leader Suu Kyi.

The fact that the junta allowed the new government to form and come together was a shock to most, since the old military government was known to overrule elections that didn’t go its way.

This wouldn’t be the first time the junta tried to prevent Suu Kyi and her party from gaining power: in 1990 her party won a majority of the seats, but party members were placed under house arrest, Suu Kyi herself being held for 15 years.

Interestingly, Suu Kyi is unable to hold the office of president herself, since her son holds British citizenship.

The new constitution, drafted by the junta, prohibits anyone whose child is a foreign citizen from holding office, perhaps for this specific reason.

Nevertheless, Suu Kyi is confident she’ll retain control over her party.

“I’ll make all the decisions, it’s as simple as all that,” she told BBC.

Suu Kyi and her party credit the recent, rapid increase in the political motivation of the Burmese people and the prevalence of the internet with their victory.

“Everybody gets onto the ’net and informs everybody else of what is happening,” said Suu Kyi, mentioning also that the Internet helps keep the elections free and fair.

Although the new government is incredibly young, many have apparently well-founded hope that democracy is there to stay.

This hope is backed up by previous transitions to democracy in the region.

Indeed, the democratization of Myanmar echoes a long-standing pattern of gradual democratization in the southeast Asian region.

Starting with Japan and then moving to smaller southeast Asian countries, a trend of a gradual shift from strongman, one-party authoritarian regimes to effective democracies has dominated the region.

With widespread popular support and a stable political ecosystem, there are few foreseeable hurdles which the new government must overcome.

 

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