Historic? Yes. Life-changing? Not yet.
That’s my view on Aung San Suu Kyi’s election to the Burmese parliament. The leader of the National League of Democracy swept to victory in the Kawhmu by-election yesterday with an estimated 99 per cent of the vote. Those sort of figures are normally reserved for dictators prone to stuffing ballot boxes, yet there is little question of the legitimacy of Aung San Suu Kyi’s victory.
The Kawhmu – south-west of the city of Rangoon – by-election was one of 45 held across the South East Asian state, and the National League of Democracy was claiming today that it had won 44 of them – the only exception being a seat they decided not to contest.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s participation in elections, along with her colleagues, is a cause for celebration – few of us believed we’d ever see the day. However, will it really make a difference?
If the NLD’s claims prove to be true then they will have around five per cent of the seats in parliament. The military and their supporters control around 80 per cent. And let’s be honest even if they did manage to debate a few policies – like God forbid release some of the hundreds of political prisoners who are languishing in the country’s jails – the military still has an effective veto over decisions by Parliament.
And that’s why when she was asked last week to rank how democratic Burma is on a scale of one to ten, the iconic Burmese leader answered: “On the way to one”.
Yes it’s a start, but until there is freedom of assembly, expression and association in Burma; until every political prisoner is released; until torture and child labour are a thing of the past; and until the persecution of Burma’s numerous minorities is a distant memory – the campaign must go on. And no doubt Aung San Suu Kyi knows that more than most.
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