Can an "election of generals" help reform Myanmar?

Tue Oct 5, 2010 1:01am EDT
 

By Martin Petty

BANGKOK (Reuters) - By holding an election to legitimize decades of military rule, Myanmar's power-hungry generals may have inadvertently created a framework for a democratic system they might not be able to control.

An army-dominated political process will culminate in November 7 polls dubbed an "election of generals" and widely dismissed as a sham, but there is hope that the system could spur reforms and gradually take power away from authoritarian military officers.

For now, few expect any change to the status quo, just more suits and a lot less army uniforms. Most analysts say a transfer of power to civilians -- whether intentional or not -- would be an evolutionary process of at least a decade.

"Of course the election won't be free and fair, but there's a chance here that over time, more political space will be created," said Georgetown University's David Steinberg, a veteran Myanmar analyst who has studied the former British colony since before the generals seized power in a 1962 coup.

"There's potential for improvements to the economy and for the first time in decades, a parliament will convene and normal people will have some voice."

But it's almost certain that voice will be silent at first.

Myanmar's complex and verbose constitution, which few Burmese admit to having read, appears to be a blueprint for cementing the military's grip on power, with recently retired generals poised to win scores of parliament and senate seats, in addition to the 25 percent quota reserved for serving soldiers.

Restrictive election laws and steep registration fees mean pro-democracy parties will present no challenge to two well-heeled pro-military parties, whose lawmakers are sure to choose a powerful army-backed president whose policies and ministerial appointments will sail through parliament.   Continued...