The Beginning of the Last Days

The month of February is a peculiar one. It has never enjoyed the full status of having 30 or more days, and there is only really one day two weeks into the month that people see some excitement. Apart from Valentine’s day, there are no fireworks and joy nor tears to be shed.

This February however, Myanmar passed through a truly historical moment that began with the swearing in of its new Members of Parliament from the National League for Democracy party.

It is quite astounding to think that just 25 years ago, the entire country was held down by a tight grip of fear and military rule. Soldiers and tanks imposed curfews on the streets and the country was brought to a standstill.

Yet today, the country has made one of the biggest leaps in its entire history, becoming the first nation to peacefully transfer government power from what “The Democratic Index” of The Economist ranked the third most vicious dictatorial rule in 2007, into the hands of a political party that is led by a renowned Nobel Peace Laureate. To mark an even sweeter victory, this leader is a woman.

These recent reforms that have taken place, led by various civil society organizations and political parties from both left and right, Burmans and ethnics alike, are nothing short of applause-worthy. The people’s support to propel the momentum for change also compels eye-watering pride and admiration.

Nevertheless, the democracy of this country is still in its infancy, and has just started to take its baby steps towards a full flourishing system. In these times of joy and euphoria, it is necessary to remind ourselves of a more sobering thought, that Myanmar’s first steps to reach this goal in 1990 came tumbling down shortly after and there is no knowing what challenges lie ahead.

The most sobering of all is in knowing that the country’s democratic champion herself, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, is not able to become president—although what she has accomplished is on par with pure miracle—despite having the clear support of the country’s majority. Yet, she is now bound to bear the entire weight of all of Myanmar’s problems on her shoulders. Critics from left and right are now free to blame her for every tiny fault in the country’s broken system.

After seeing her go through most of my life in political imprisonment and house arrest, I have faith in Daw Suu’s resilience and courage to continue on, but I can only pray that the rest of the people can display the same on the road towards rebuilding our country.

When Barack Obama took office in 2008, the United States was in shambles – it had gone through a painful economic recession, and was currently involved in not just one but two costly wars in the Middle East. Like his slogan, there was much hope for change when he was sworn in, and an enormous amount of expectation resting on him. When the time came to run for his second term in 2012, Obama’s ratings from the public were significantly lower than before, and even his eyes were weary from taking the toll of constant debate within his Congress and from losing his supporters.

Myanmar has many sobering lessons to learn from this parallel. The country is rife with ethnic-religious tensions, and its economic state is even far worse. There is still no shortage of groups of people that have retained their privileges since the military days, and are eager to tear apart the public image of the NLD and will surely use it as a scapegoat with claims of incompetence and failure. There will be much criticism, foul-crying and expectation for problems to be solved overnight.

From this month onwards however, the world will witness the true beginning of Burma’s new chapter. It will be a long battle for the NLD as it not only inherits governmental powers, but also its problems. There is some comfort however, in knowing that the hardest hurdle has just been overcome, and the people need only continue unfailingly forward with this momentum.

Author: Alex Aung Khant

Alex Aung Khant is Executive Director at Urbanize, a local policy institute for urban and regional planning. Alex 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.