Opinion


Myanmar is soon to hold elections for regional/state assemblies, the national parliament, and the president. Voting for the first two, scheduled for November 8, will influence the third – the election of the president, which may take place in February 2016. Much is at stake, not only for political forces within the country but also for powers elsewhere in the region. The process of conducting free and fair elections and their eventual outcome will very likely influence regional politics.
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It was in the middle of the night on August 10, 2015 when I first saw lots of notifications on my Facebook page alerting me to an online campaign protest by Burmese medical doctors. The campaign was titled “Black Ribbon Movement 2015.” I was already enrolled as a member of the campaign’s private Facebook group and recognized a photo of familiar orthopedic surgeons wearing black ribbons on their green OT coats.
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It’s barely 80 days to the November 8 general election. All agree on the importance of the vote. National League for Democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has said that it will decide the future of the country. Other politicians, scholars, journalists and international community have echoed her views.
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Many foreigners believe that Myanmar is moving towards full-blown democracy, with a general election scheduled for November 8th. To the armed forces, democracy is fine so long as they can still call most of the shots. They will find this much harder if the army-backed party in parliament, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), loses its majority, as seems possible. Against this backdrop of soldiers keen to cling to power, President Thein Sein, a former general, has started to purge the ranks of the ruling party.
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Burma has a national election coming up in a few months, and its outcome is uncertain. But one thing is already clear: Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the immensely popular leader of the democratic opposition, won’t be a candidate for president. That’s because the country’s military-dominated political establishment has refused to countenance any changes to the current constitution, which includes strictures that prevent her from becoming head of state.
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Much uncertainty surrounds the lead up to and conduct of Myanmar’s upcoming legislative elections. The recent voting down of constitutional amendments in parliament — almost certainly (and solely) by the bloc of appointed, non-elected military parliamentarians — erodes to a certain extent the legitimacy of the electoral process. The Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s armed forces) retain their privileged political powers and Aung San Suu Kyi remains barred from the presidency. These events question the sincerity of Myanmar’s transition away from military rule, especially as power is becoming increasingly more diffuse and diversified with respect to the actors involved.
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A surprising move by the Burmese military elite has just taken place as the forthcoming November general election fast approaches. The sudden removal of Chairman Thura Shwe Mann and Secretary-General Maung Maung Thein of the military-back Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is regarded by some Western analysts as incumbent President Thein Sein’s rather blatant and self-serving manoeuvring to secure his second presidency in the coming election.
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I never imagined it would evolve the way it has: extremely complex, open, frustrating and exciting. I also did not imagine that I would sit in on the negotiations and play a meaningful role.
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Myanmar is one step away from a historic deal that could end seven decades of internal armed conflict. On Aug. 6-7 representatives of the Myanmar government, including from the armed forces, met with leaders of the country’s ethnic armed groups and finalized the text of the Nationwide Cease-Fire Agreement.
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Until his downfall in 2004, Khin Nyunt had been head of military intelligence as well as holding various other posts. He was a brutal man, Myanmar’s torturer-in-chief, responsible for monitoring and arresting activists. He was a staunch defender of the dictatorship, both as a man willing to crush any resistance internally, and defending the regime internationally.
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Myanmar’s president Thein Sein has launched a palace coup within the ruling party to shore up his support and end the presidential hopes of his rival, the speaker of the lower house Thura Shwe Mann.
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Myanmar’s coming elections, scheduled for November 8 this year, have taken on growing significance after the key opposition party, National League for Democracy (NLD), determined in mid-July that it would take part. Both the Myanmar people and the international community are counting on the elections to help usher in genuine democracy together with lasting peace and prosperity.
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The infamous political purges of Burma’s junta-era were recalled on Wednesday night as news filtered through of a well-planned plot to remove the influential parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann from the top ruling party post.
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Despite what some might have you believe, Burma’s upcoming election is not really a battle between the country’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and other pro-democracy parties or independent candidates who support this cause. Instead it remains a fight between democracy proponents and a general-turned-politician contingent and other pro-military factions.
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Last week, the ninth round of ceasefire negotiations between Burma’s quasi-civilian government and the negotiators representing the country’s Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) ended without any conclusive agreement in Rangoon.
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There has been a noticeable split within the Union Solidarity and Development Party but the military is making every effort to maintain its power after the November 8 election.
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How should we interpret the current state of anti-Muslim Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar that has emerged as one of the greatest threats to the country’s still-uncertain political transition? Compared with previous moments, the last few months have been relatively quiet, with no riots or bloodshed. U Wirathu’s summit meeting with Bodu Bala Sena leaders in Sri Lanka was cause for concern, but it is still unclear what cooperation might actually materialize between Buddhist partisans in the two countries. Large demonstrations in several cities in favor of four pieces of religious legislation proposed by monks that unfavorably target Muslims have kept the issue in the headlines, but given other pressing constitutional and legislative concerns, there seems to be no rush in Parliament to pass them.
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The battle for sustainability will be won – or lost – in Asia. Although it may sound dramatic, the concept is not far-fetched. Our region is perhaps the most dynamic in the world, accounting for 40 percent of global economic output and two-thirds of global growth. Globally, 60pc of the population calls Asia home and urban populations are predicted to grow from 1.9 billion to 3.3 billion in 2050.
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Ongoing ceasefire negotiations between the Myanmar government and armed ethnic groups speak to a critical question: how might more than six decades of ethnic conflict be extinguished? The answer may lie, at least in part, in federalism.
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Myanmar this November will hold its first general election since the formation of a nominally civilian government in 2011, sweeping away more than five decades of military rule.
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