Burma Elections: Voices of Change
(Rangoon) – One week after the election, with 99 percent of results announced, the National League for Democracy’s overwhelming victory points to a clear consensus among Burmese voters in their support for the NLD’s refrain, “Time for change.”
Throughout the two-month campaign period, the NLD’s slogan, theme song, and stump speeches all reiterated the theme of change for Burma. “The country needs change. That is why we say, ‘Time for change’ – to reflect the will of the people,” Aung San Suu Kyi said to the crowd of 40,000 gathered in Rangoon a week before the election. The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) had picked up the thread with its late campaign promise, “We have been changing,” but to little effect. In Irrawaddy Region, President Thein Sein’s final hometown speech came with a rebuttal to the NLD buzzword: “We have changed from a military regime to a democratic government elected by the people. What more change do you want?”
In the wake of NLD’s victory, the question now shifts to whether the election can truly bring genuine change, given the flawed 2008 constitution that reserves 25 percent of parliament seats for the military and blocks Suu Kyi from the presidency.
With the challenges of negotiations and power transfer ahead, it’s worth returning to the voices of voters from around the country in response to a question we posed in the weeks leading up to the election: Do you think November 8 can bring real change?
Here are some of their answers.
“If it is free enough – I don’t think about fair elections – but if it is free, I think some things will change. At least we can see some cohesion in parliament. But it cannot change the important things, because the army still has 25 percent of parliament. They still choose the three major ministers. All the bureaucracy, the General Administration Department and so on, will still be under the military.”
“The elections alone cannot fix our problems. But we must have the right to select our leaders.”
“Maybe things will change – but we need educated voters who critically think about the future of our country.”
“For the country to change, we have two needs. Peace and economic development. Will this happen?”
“Change will be hard but possible. We need more engagement with organizations who work for a common purpose, and then we can change something.”
“People think the NLD will bring change and solve everything. They have too high expectations. We will only have more problems.”
“Thein Sein says, ‘We changed.’ You changed, yeah, yeah, you changed the color, you changed the uniform. That’s it.”
“We all expect real democracy. This is our first priority, to be a real democratic country. I want to change us to a real democracy – but this means all people have to be included.”
“It is not only the inside of the constitution that needs change, it is the structures – of parliament, the military. We have to fight from the outside, from the community. Twenty-five percent of parliament is military. They hold the power. It is impossible to change from the inside alone.”
“If the UEC [Union Election Commission] is free and fair, the election will result in a real [government]. But it is not enough to change the outside. You have to change the mindset.”
“After 2012, 2013, I saw positive change. Now I don’t see positive change. Whatever may be the 2015 election results, there are no military–civilian relations. So the military can just seize power, like Thailand.”
“We need education. The mentality of the government and of the military will not change. They still remain in power doing the same things. One thing I hope for the future is that we have some more freedom. However, that cannot satisfy the situation. We have to work to extend our space. I’ve seen space for civil and political societies expand. We want more and more.”
“I hope there will be change. There are two things we need to focus on first – the education system, and decentralization.”
“Yes we have big hopes. Big hopes mean we need real change. Change to the system, governance, legal reform, and education. People’s perspective needs to be changed too. We used to have a really good education system, used to respect each other, and used to listen to each other. Now the younger generation is changed because of the weak education system. I feel that we are losing our traditional culture of being kind and gentle. We need change to find those kind of value systems again.”
“When the wind comes, you can try to move your boat. But if it’s still tied to the edge of the harbor, it won’t go anywhere.”
“I hope so, because I want to hold events like human rights days with easy and open permission. I want to host regional conferences. I want the change so that it is easy to learn.”