Will a Suu Kyi and NLD win help Myanmar stay in China’s good graces?
When the world was extremely preoccupied with the tense Trump-Biden American elections, Myanmar held its parliamentary polls, held on Sunday, which are expected to deliver a government with a strong popular mandate in Southeast Asia.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party (NLD) won a landslide in 2015 and established the first civilian government after 50 years of global isolation and ruthless military regime. Five years later, Suu Kyi remains popular, but 2020 has widened the image from 2015.
Suu Kyi has fallen from the grace of world leaders and is no longer a democracy icon, primarily because she mishandled the rogue military crackdown against the ethnic Rohingya Muslim population, which the United Nations said had “the hallmarks of genocide.”
More than a million Rohingya fled from Rakhine State into neighbouring Bangladesh in 2016 and 2017 after the military waged a campaign of persecution, which the United Nations dubbed as “textbook ethnic cleansing.”
The Rohingya’s citizenship rights were deliberately and permanently erased, restricting them to vote under the discriminatory 1982 Citizenship Law. Even the Rohingya political parties were banned from contesting the elections.
In the face of global criticism, last year Suu Kyi defended her country’s military crackdown and denied genocide at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, explaining that the claims were “incomplete and misleading.”
Many international observers fear that the November elections will not be free, fair, and credible, citing disenfranchisement and campaign restrictions imposed by the Union Election Commission (UEC).
Military chief Gen Min Aung Hlaing’s warnings to the UEC on electioneering directives soured relationships with the government. President U Win Myint stated that the military’s “remarks over the election were inciting instability and causing public concern.”
Bertil Lintner, a Swedish journalist who has written extensively about Myanmar’s armed conflicts, politics, and ethnic crises for nearly 40 years, says it is unfortunate that elections have been suspended in several constituencies, primarily in ethnic areas where armed conflict rages against the Myanmar regime.
China wants Suu Kyi to win Myanmar’s polls. China’s interests will be better served by the Suu Kyi-led status quo than a return to military-dominated rule. Much has changed since the leaders in Beijing favoured Myanmar’s authoritarian military regime and were deeply suspicious of then opposition leader Suu Kyi.
The Chinese Communist Party has made no secret that they would prefer to see Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) win and are wary of the military top brass, whom they find increasingly difficult to influence and control.
Lintner also agrees that the Myanmar foreign policy will likely take its course after the poll -- towards a stronger and closer relationship with China. While the Tatmadaw sees it as their pledge to defend the nation’s sovereignty and seeks to lessen dependence on China, Suu Kyi turned to Beijing for the economic and controversial Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) after her allies and admirers in the West distanced themselves from her over the Rohingya refugee crisis.
Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at [email protected] Twitter @saleemsamad.