Bursting firecrackers over elections in a neighbouring country may sound controversial these days. But >in the case of Myanmar , it would not be out of place if India celebrated the successful conclusion of elections there. The fact that the elections were conducted peacefully within a day, and that counting has taken place without a hitch, is a big moment in Myanmar. The >massive turnout of 80 per cent of the eligible 30 million voters was truly remarkable. Given that this was the first truly free general election in 25 years and much of the vast countryside had never voted before this, it is to the credit of the election commission as well as voter awareness groups across the country that managed to ensure heavy polling even in the most remote areas. The numbers were robust: more than 6,000 candidates from 90 parties stood for elections to the 664-seat Parliament. With counting in progress and >Aung San Suu Kyi ’s National League for Democracy (NLD) inching towards a likely landslide victory, Myanmar is indeed poised for great change at many levels, each of which must be rejoiced. To begin with, the elections will see the first non-junta backed government in Myanmar’s history. Ms. Suu Kyi will still face the twin hurdles of the 664-seat Parliament including 25 per cent of the military or Tatmadaw’s nominees, and constitutional restrictions on her own nomination as President. Even so, with her popularity strong nationwide, and worldwide support for democracy in Myanmar, Ms. Suu Kyi, or Mother Suu as she is called, will carry much goodwill to aid her government.
The road ahead has many challenges too. Myanmar is amongst Asia’s poorest countries, where government schemes reach less than 3 per cent of the population. It is a country rife with armed ethnic groups, and despite a ceasefire accord signed by the President last month, major guerrilla groups from the Wa and Kachin states haven’t yet signed on. Adding to that are religious tensions, as the increasingly vocal Buddhist groups adopt majoritarian and often brutal methods with religious minorities, including the Rohingya Muslims. In this election, several Rohingya who were eligible to vote in the last elections were deprived of their vote, and not allowed to stand. Finally, Myanmar faces the challenges of development, to ensure that the rush of big corporations it has invited to fuel an economic boom does not deplete its natural resources. Owing to the growth of construction, mining and manufacturing industries in the past few years, Myanmar has the third-highest rate of deforestation in the world. These are all challenges the new government will have to tackle quickly. India too must seize the opportunity to launch a new partnership with a much-neglected neighbour, that is also its only link and gateway to the East.
Corrections and Clarifications:
This article has been edited for a factual error.