Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia should resist feeling of euphoria over Myanmar election



Cambodia should resist feeling of euphoria over Myanmar election

NLD supporters gather to watch the results come in from the recent election in Myanmar.
NLD supporters gather to watch the results come in from the recent election in Myanmar. AFP

Cambodia should resist feeling of euphoria over Myanmar election

Opinion

With Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) on the verge of a decisive victory in last Sunday’s parliamentary elections, Myanmar is riding a tide of democratic euphoria.

Yet, while Myanmar will undoubtedly be better off with an NLD government, it is important not to be carried away. Myanmar has not become a democracy overnight just because it held relatively free and fair elections, nor will it become one anytime soon.

The military-drafted 2008 Constitution is the biggest stumbling block to genuine democracy. It reserves 25 per cent of parliamentary seats for the military, and a 75 per cent plus one vote is required to amend it.

This equates to an effective military veto on constitutional change, barring Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president. Furthermore, it reserves the right of the military to take full control again if “national unity” is threatened.

Pervasive anti-Muslim, anti-Rohingya rhetoric, discrimination and violence are the tinderbox that the military can ignite at any time.

The constitution also excludes ethnic voices, ensuring that their dreams of peace, relative autonomy under a federal system and respect for their rights are further away than ever – however well-intentioned the NLD may be.

What does all this mean for Cambodia? Already both opposition leader Sam Rainsy and Prime Minister Hun Sen have lauded the NLD victory, as have democrats across the globe.

While Cambodia would be blessed to have a leader as charismatic as Aung San Suu Kyi, is the Myanmar military’s “disciplined democracy” really something to aspire to? Since 1993, Cambodia has aspired to something much greater: genuine democracy, underpinned by the supremacy of the rule of law and respect for human rights.

It should therefore balk at the idea of a military – up to its neck in human rights abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity – hand-picking important government ministers relating to security and defence, and maintaining its hold on the levers of power.

Recently, the Cambodian military was quite rightly criticised for betraying its partisan loyalty to the ruling party; in Myanmar, the military actually runs the country – both before Sunday’s elections and hereafter.

Furthermore, Cambodia should recognise that its own 1993 Constitution is infinitely superior and more democratic than Myanmar’s flawed constitution, regardless of whether it is respected in practice.

Finally, it would do well to think beyond a party that lacks institutional stability and sustainability, not to mention a comprehensive policy platform that offers concrete, transparent and viable solutions to national problems.

The NLD will certainly say the right things, and there will be progress on important issues such as the release of political prisoners and respect for fundamental freedoms.

However, it just does not have the democratic authority or strategy to solve the grave issues confronting Myanmar, including amending the repressive constitution, securingreal peace with the various ethnic regions, and ending recurring bouts of religious violence.

Euphoria is understandable, but a healthy dose of realism is needed. Cambodia would do well to congratulate Myanmar, and then return to getting its own – less messy – house in order.

Ou Virak is president of the Future Forum independent think tank, while Robert Finch is the think tank’s policy director and formerly a legal and advocacy officer at Burma Partnership.

MOST VIEWED

  • ‘Education’ a priority traffic-law penalty

    A top National Police official on June 21 neither rejected nor confirmed the authenticity of a leaked audio message, which has gone viral on social media, on a waiver of fines for a number of road traffic-related offences. General Him Yan, deputy National Police chief in

  • Pursat Ford assembly plant opens

    The Kingdom’s first Ford assembly plant was inaugurated on June 16 in Pursat province amid rising demand for brand-new vehicles among Cambodians. The facility is seen as a game changer for the domestic automobile industry, which could bring a wave of investors seeking to cash

  • Siem Reap’s $18M zoo said to educate public, help wildlife

    Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium Co Ltd has invested $18 million in a zoo in Siem Reap province, which will be opened in October to educate and promote animal conservation as well as attract national and international tourists. Currently, the Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium is building the

  • Volunteer scheme to foster ‘virtuous’ humanitarian spirit

    A senior education official said volunteer work contributes to solidarity and promotes a virtuous humanitarian spirit among the youth and communities. Serei Chumneas, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, made the comment during the opening of a training programme called “

  • $50B infrastructure plan en route

    The government’s upcoming $50 billion,10-year infrastructure master plan will provide tremendous investment opportunities for domestic and foreign entities, transport experts and economists say. Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol revealed the plan to Japanese ambassador to Cambodia Masahiro Mikami on June 15. At

  • Chinese firms unveil preliminary results on metro, monorail for capital

    Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol and representatives from China Road and Bridge Corp (CRBC) and its parent company, the state-owned China Communications Construction Co Ltd (CCCC), met on June 24 for talks on results of the firms’ preliminary study on a potential metro