Thursday, September 13, 2012

The delicate path to democracy in Burma

Thursday, 13 September 2012 14:47 Myat Thu Pan

(Commentary) – By far the report that was posted on Mizzima on Wednesday from the CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies) in Washington, D.C., is the most thorough and comprehensive unbiased study of the political situation in the country by Western experts and think tanks.

It carries a lot of weight as well since CSIS is a bipartisan body, which helps to shape American policies domestic as well as international.

88-Generation student leaders at a fundraising concert.  Photo: Mizzima

It is very timely that President Thein Sein is invited by the United Nations in NYC to give a speech there. Credit also should go to the United Nations secretary- General that he did not invite Aung San Suu Kyi at the same time to give a parallel speech which would have over shadowed President Thein Sein's debut on the world stage as president. This avoids the kind of embarrassment for the president which happened at the World Economic Forum in Thailand back May.

The recommendation of the report that President Obama should meet with President Thein Sein as well as ASSK is a critical suggestion at this point in the reconciliatory process that had been started by Thein Sein himself. Thein Sein's role now is in fact more critical than anyone else in the nation.

There is a saying in Burmese that the head of the herd needs to walk a straight path for the whole herd to follow.

As for the CSIS report, it will help all stake holders in the nation to think seriously about their positions objectively and to build a consensus towards true national reconciliation.

The most comforting fact gleaned from the CSIS paper is the fact that the study highlighted on the Burmese military's recognition that it will need to cede at some point and build up its own military professionalism. This is a most critical fact that is pertinent to Burma becoming a true democratic nation or not.

The paper also says that the present government looked toward the Indonesian model for transition ideas. I would like to again advocate for the South African model of transition to a full democracy.

I had the good fortune to hear Prof. Larry Diamond of Stanford University, an imminent expert in emerging democracies, speak to a group of Burmese expatriates in San Francisco. He said the situation in Burma has the potential to become like the transition in South Africa in 1994 because of the working relationship between President Thein Sein and ASSK and the trust built between them seemed to reflect the relationship between de Klerk and Mandela.

His view is that Thein Sein and ASSK are in a reconciliation mode, but they need to take the next step of negotiations towards a planned transition to democracy.

But Diamond also said that the Burmese democratic parties are too fragmented and that there is an immediate and critical need to form a strong coalition if it were to participate and negotiate with the pro-military government.

The African National Congress was a powerful bloc of three parties led by Tom Combe and Nelson Mandela, which participated in the negotiations with the de Klerk government.

Min Ko Naing may well become like Tom Combe of the ANC. He and his group of ’88-Generation student leaders would be a perfect team to bring together all the democratic parties, ethnic parties and the ethnic groups.

De Klerk and Mandela did extensive and difficult negotiations before the first democratic election in 1994 with the formation of an interim Constitution that allowed power sharing between the three parties after the first democratic election in 1994.

How the Burmese pro-military government and the democratic bloc will negotiate, give and take, and come to a consensus is very much up to each stakeholder and the seriousness of their political will towards building a truly democratic nation.

What happened after the first democratic election in South African is that the African National Congress (ANC), whose slate incorporated the labour confederation COSATU and the South African Communist Party, fell short of a two-thirds majority. As required by the Interim Constitution, the ANC formed a Government of National Unity with the National Party of de Klerk and the Inkatha Freedom Party, the two other parties that won more than 20 seats in the National Assembly.

That was the way power sharing took place between three parties for five years before the second democratic elections with the crafting of the permanent constitution that led to a truly democratic multi-racial nation of South Africa. 

It is fervently hoped that the will of all the stakeholders in Burma have the vision to build a mutually benefiting consensus towards crafting a workable path to full democracy. It may well be that Burma has a chance to become the next South Africa. 

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