Myanmar’s Transition and the Vote

A little over 27 years ago, the people of Myanmar watched helplessly as their protests for democratisation were put down by the Burmese military in one of the most violent repressions the country has ever seen. This same country is now holding parliamentary elections, and is mere steps away from accomplishing what countless people have given their lives for. This election will be the second since the military government finally started to release their chokehold on the country’s politics after the well-publicised Saffron Revolution of 2007.

When thinking about my country’s politics, I am personally troubled by the word “transition” — which has so often been used by journalists, because it entails that there is indeed an end point, a moment where one reaches a goal. For over 50 years since the former dictator U Ne Win seized power in 1962, the leaders of the country has always been in military uniform, at least at one point in their lives. The current “civilian” government is full of former army generals and, in fact, 25% of parliament members are actually still in active service according to a one-sided constitution. I am therefore unsure whether the political change in Myanmar has actually been a move forward or a mere metamorphosis of the status quo. The word transition would only be fit to describe Myanmar when there is a more favourable proper citizen-to-army ratio, and so far only the opposite has been true.

For those conflicted by this statement, simply remind yourselves that the turnout of the previous elections in 2010 were almost laughable. The US government officially called it a “mockery” and even fellow ASEAN Philippines described it as a “farce.” Every voting-age adult I knew scoffed at the results, knowing they had been hugely cheated.

When I voted for the first time this year, I felt a sickening feeling in my stomach as it reminded me of the same feeling. I feared that my vote would be simply flushed down the toilet and that I would be cheated at the end of the day. I questioned myself as to what was actually the point in coming all this way. I almost threw a tantrum at the voting booth, anticipating such a pre-meditated cheat of my vote. But as I filled in my voting sheet and casted it away, I calmed myself in believing that even though we all know the game is rigged, we must nevertheless all try to make the most of our voting powers. If it were not for people like me, who else?

This is after all, the beginning of what we all have longed for. I reminded myself that this vote, my singular ballot, is not just a piece of paper for which political party I prefer, but forms part of a larger collection in deciding the future of my 55 million other peers. I sealed my ballot with hope that my vote would help in making my country finally worth of a true “transition” to lasting peace and freedom.

My final thoughts as I exited were reflecting upon the efforts of all the people’s toil for this moment, and I decided to walk the long way back home, contemplating with a heavy heart of what has yet to be achieved.

Author: Alex Aung Khant

Alex Aung Khant is from Yangon, Myanmar, and holds a Masters degree in Urban Studies and Public Policy from Sciences Po in Paris, France. He obtained his B.A. in Political Science and Asian Studies, also from Sciences Po Paris. Interested readers are invited to contact him for further discussion at alex.aungkhant@sciencespo.fr