By Cchavi Vasisht
01 February 2023 marks the second anniversary of military rule and the overthrow of the democratic government in Myanmar. As the crisis enters the third year, it is important to reflect on what happened in these two years and what the possible projections for the year 2023 are.
The present year is crucial for Myanmar, as Senior General Min Hlaing stated that the elections would be conducted in August 2023. With the elections scheduled in the year of the 75th Anniversary of Myanmar’s Independence, it is pertinent to raise a question: Whether the election would be free and impartial, and most importantly, inclusive?
The 2023 elections are mandated as per the 2008 Constitution as the emergency rule expires after two years, and the National Defence and Security Council (NDSC) is required to hold an election within six months of 01 February 2023. While it must be noted that the NDSC is dominated by the military.
Even the Union Election Commission (UEC) is currently appointed by the military and thereby serves the military interests. The UEC started preparing for the polls in 2022 by compiling voter lists, designating polling stations and purchasing polling materials.
The UEC also approved changes in the present first-past-the-post system by proportional representation, which will favour the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). The USDP also started preparing for the elections and, in October 2022, appointed Khin Yi as its new leader, who is close to Min Aung Hlaing.
On the other hand, the opposition forces, including the National Unity Government (NUG) and many Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs), rejected the conduct of elections by the military rulers. The NUG also adopted a new institutional framework, Federal Democracy Charter (FDC), in preparation for the future federal union.
Additionally, the military has excluded the previous National League for Democracy (NLD) political leaders from participating in the elections as most of the NLD leaders are arrested, and the ones who formed the NUG are not allowed to participate in the elections as the NUG, and its affiliate organisations are declared as ‘terrorist organisations’ by the regime.
Further, Aung San Suu Kyi’s cases were concluded, and she was sentenced to a total of 33 years of imprisonment in December 2022, potentially keeping her out of elections as well. Many EAOs, such as Karen National Union (KNU), have refused to recognise the elections.
Furthermore, it must be noted that Min Aung Hlaing announced the elections for 2023 only on the condition that there would be “stable and peaceful”. While he declared 2022 as Myanmar’s Year for Peace, the military intensified its attacks against the opposition forces, especially through aircraft and landmines.
However, unlike the earlier two coups, the opposite forces (NUG, PDFs and EAOs) continued to oppose the military rule in the second year. As compared to 2021, the resistance has taken more violent forms.
The NUG Ministry of Defence reported that they constitute around 300PDFs with the strength of around 100,000 troops spread across 250 townships. In addition, the military lost more than 90 bases since the fighting with resistance forces and EAOs.
Additionally, the NUG has increased its presence in the country and claimed legitimacy internationally. According to the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar, the NUG and resistance groups have gained control over 52 per cent of the country and are challenging the military in another 23 per cent.
The regime has full control over 72 townships out of 330, thereby testifying a decrease in their control.The NUG has also established public administration and judicial systems in 24 townships. Education, health, municipal and social services have also been established.
Internationally, NUG has been successful in setting up representative offices in eight countries. It has also requested that ASEAN include itself in the meetings as a key stakeholder, which the latter deliberated upon in its 40 and 41st summits in November 2022.
However, there have been mixed international responses. In December 2022, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed its second resolution after 1948, urging the military to stop the violence immediately and release all the political leaders, especially Aung San Suu Kyi. 12 out of 15 countries voted in favour and China, Russia and India abstained.
On the one hand, western countries have adopted their conventional ways of sanctioning military rulers and companies. Regional powers such as ASEAN, India and Japan are looking for amicable solutions. With Indonesia taking up ASEAN chairmanship in 2023, there are hopes for bringing Myanmar back into the ASEAN fold.
On the other hand, Thailand, China and Russia have provided certain legitimacy to the military rulers by supporting them and supplying arms. As far as the elections are concerned, the international responses have not been encouraging. The UN Special Representative Thomas Andrews decried that the election would be “fraud.”
The United States, Malaysia and European Union have openly called the elections a sham and warned that the vote under the military rule would not be free and fair. On the other hand, a consul from the Chinese embassy called the USDP Chairman and gave its support for the elections.
Finally, the two years of military rule have resulted in a compounding economic, social and political crisis. Economically, the country witnessed devaluation of its currency Kyat, inflation was at an all-time high, a decline in revenues, and shortages of fuel and food. Internationally, exports dried up, and major investments were withdrawn following the FATF ruling of blacklisting Myanmar in October 2022.
The conflict has resulted in widespread displacement within and outside the country and an eventual refugee problem in bordering countries, particularly India and Thailand. More than 1.4 million people have been displaced, which is an increase of over 60 per cent since December 2021.
The fighting continues in 266 townships out of the 330 townships, and more than 2,500 civilians have been killed. The Northwest region of the country is the worst affected, which involves Chin, Sagaing and Magway States. The execution of four prisoners in July 2022 hit human rights violations at their lowest.
The media was curtailed, and the country witnessed rampant internet blackouts. Within the country, incidents of drug consumption and trafficking increased.
So the prediction for 2023 is that there is a possibility of postponement of elections if the violence continues, and even if elections take place, the violence will only continue, leading to further humanitarian crises in the country. The elections will not be inclusive and could lead to a fractured democracy in Myanmar or an eventual Balkanisation of the country.
Therefore, the political crisis can only be resolved when all stakeholders are involved to establish a peaceful and long-term solution. The triumph of any one force, either military or opposition forces, would only create grounds for further disagreements and conflicts.
Therefore, the military should start by removing the tag of terrorists on the NUG and other opposition forces and initiate negotiations with all stakeholders to ensure inclusive elections. Finally, international factors can only support the development of the country; the course for democratic transition can only come from within and not from any external force.
Author is Research Associate, Vivekananda International Foundation.
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