Here is a blog from my friend, (award-winning) photographer and international tour guide, Yvette Barnett.
I have know Yvette for many years and we recently caught up in Boston. She is informed and extremely well travelled. Moreover, she knows Burma / Myanmar better than anyone I know. Thus, when the elections (the first in many years) were taking place in that country, I realized Yvette was actually there.
Hoping Yvette had as internet connection, I asked her for a blog on the process. There is of course so much more to say, but this is an excellent, ‘real-time’ account of the election is that beautiful and very isolated country.
Thank you Yvette – we look forward to much more from you!
Or whatever traditional greeting you hear on the streets of Burma has recently been replaced by the words “Have you voted? Who did you vote for?“. Right now, people aren’t interested in the well being of your family or what kind of day you’ve had. Now they just want to know have you voted and are you ready, like them, for change.
The early results are in and it’s looking like the opposition party National League for Democracy (NLD) will take a landslide victory in the first open democratic election in 25 years. The people of Myanmar, the modern name for Burma, are undoubtedly ready for change.
Without question, Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the party will take her party to victory in the coming days, but what happens next is the real question on everybody’s lips. We already know that ‘The Lady’ as she is affectionately known, cannot be president. The ruling party, the Union Solidarity Development Party backed by the military leaders who have been in power since 2011, have written in to their constitution that nobody with foreign offspring can be president. Aung San Suu Kyi has two British sons by her late English husband and this prevents her from being Myanmar’s next president.
According to her, she will be ‘above’ the president but the real question right now is how will these military leaders, who control many of the hotels,restaurants, businesses relinquish their power to the people when they control so much of the country. The military will retain 25% of the parliamentary seats no matter what and there are many ethnic minorities who will not be represented in Aung San Suu Kyi’s government. According to reports over 1000 Muslims have been denied the right to vote in the election.
Whilst everybody here knows already with certainty what the outcome of the election is, nobody knows how the victory will be interpreted in to power for the future of the country. There is no doubt that these are exciting times for Myanmar but people are also very nervous about the outcome.
There is a real buzz on the streets here but also a latent fear as people remember that it wasn’t very long ago that the military junta slaughtered the innocent monks just a few years back in 2007.
Burma is a sectarian country with a long standing history of genocide.
More recently Buddhist monks have gone to villages in the Rakhine region, executing whole villages of Muslims, allegedly incited by Suu Kyi’s party. How will the muslim’s feel when Suu Kyi’s party take power with no representation for them in the new government?
This is not just a democratic election for a people starved of democracy for so long. This is not a cut and dried case that the party with the overall majority will take power in the new government and lead the country to a bright new future. Instead, this is a country with so many underlying threads. So many ethnic groups who have very little in common with the political activists in the nation’s capital Yangon. This feels like a political cauldron bubbling away with a very divided future no matter what the election results bring.
The world is now ready to watch as the future of Burma writes its new history over the coming months.