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Published on November 7th, 2010 | by Rosa S
Image © This week has seen a crucial step in introducing the government's "disciplined democracy" program with the country's first election in over twenty years taking place. But a "disciplined democracy" for Burma turns out to be no democracy at all, rather it's a crude attempt to make the state look legitimate. Fortunately, it doesn't seem to be working. [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="Burmese protest outside the Burma/Myanmar Embassy - by totaloutnow on flickr"]Burmese protest outside the Burma/Myanmar Embassy[/caption] Evidently democracy is about much more than holding an election. For one thing, there are certain conditions that the election would need to meet to be democratic. It would need to present a choice for voters, that is, there would have to be a variety of candidates to vote for. With the main Burmese party opposition boycotting because it's leader had been banned from taking part, thousands of its supporters haven't got the option of voting for their party of choice. Secondly, citizens would need to be able to vote and run as candidates, regardless of what they wanted politically. This isn't the case in Burma either, with 2100 political prisoners being incarcerated by the present regime - unable to vote, let alone stand. And thirdly, if the election is to have any meaning at all, then it would need to be that the winners of it actually got to rule. This seems unlikely, given the last time that the opposition won an election in 1990 they were barred from taking power. So in terms of making Burma more democratic this election isn't doing much. So what is the motivation for the Burmese government to hold a sham election? Well a key reason is to give the state some perceived legitimacy. The election has catapulted Burma into international headlines, which has attracted a lot of publicity around the fact that they are actually, well, pretending to hold an election at least. Western politicians have been quick to condemn the polls, with Obama commenting that they have been "neither free nor fair". Lets just hope that Burma's Asian neighbours take the same perspective, and don't use the election as an excuse to relieve pressure on the USDP's oppressive regime. It's comforting that Burma's elections are largely being seen by the international community for the pretence that they are. But if there's any hope for Burma's future, then the ruling party are going to have to recognize that when people want a democracy they want a system which is fair, open and meaningful; not "disciplined".

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This week has seen a crucial step in introducing the Burmese government's "disciplined democracy" program with the country's first election in over twenty years taking place. But a “disciplined democracy” for Burma turns out to be no democracy at all, rather it's a crude attempt to make the state look legitimate. Fortunately, it doesn't seem to be working.

Disciplining Democracy

This week has seen a crucial step in introducing the government’s “disciplined democracy” program with the country’s first election in over twenty years taking place. But a “disciplined democracy” for Burma turns out to be no democracy at all, rather it’s a crude attempt to make the state look legitimate. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be working.

Burmese protest outside the Burma/Myanmar Embassy

Burmese protest outside the Burma/Myanmar Embassy – by totaloutnow on flickr

Evidently democracy is about much more than holding an election. For one thing, there are certain conditions that the election would need to meet to be democratic. It would need to present a choice for voters, that is, there would have to be a variety of candidates to vote for. With the main Burmese party opposition boycotting because it’s leader had been banned from taking part, thousands of its supporters haven’t got the option of voting for their party of choice. Secondly, citizens would need to be able to vote and run as candidates, regardless of what they wanted politically. This isn’t the case in Burma either, with 2100 political prisoners being incarcerated by the present regime – unable to vote, let alone stand. And thirdly, if the election is to have any meaning at all, then it would need to be that the winners of it actually got to rule. This seems unlikely, given the last time that the opposition won an election in 1990 they were barred from taking power. So in terms of making Burma more democratic this election isn’t doing much.

So what is the motivation for the Burmese government to hold a sham election? Well a key reason is to give the state some perceived legitimacy. The election has catapulted Burma into international headlines, which has attracted a lot of publicity around the fact that they are actually, well, pretending to hold an election at least. Western politicians have been quick to condemn the polls, with Obama commenting that they have been “neither free nor fair”. Lets just hope that Burma’s Asian neighbours take the same perspective, and don’t use the election as an excuse to relieve pressure on the USDP’s oppressive regime.

It’s comforting that Burma’s elections are largely being seen by the international community for the pretence that they are. But if there’s any hope for Burma’s future, then the ruling party are going to have to recognize that when people want a democracy they want a system which is fair, open and meaningful; not “disciplined”.

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