Next year Myanmar’s voters are due to go to the polls in their second democratic general election since the disastrous military coup of 1962.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) remains well-placed to dominate the election despite the party’s failure to deliver since coming to office in April 2016.
Parties representing ethnic minorities around the country’s border states look like they will unite and offer more formidable opposition to the NLD than in the 2015 general election. But the near idolatry of Suu Kyi will probably ensure she maintains her grip in the majority ethnic Bamar regions.
This is despite the party’s woeful record in government where Suu Kyi has traded all her international credibility and integrity for a feeble role in Naypyitaw.
Under the military-drafted 2008 constitution, the generals still control three of the most important ministries: home affairs, border security and defence. This means generals can order their soldiers to execute civilians in the border regions and then control the investigations into any allegations of abuse of power.
The international community was outraged as two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were entrapped in a sting operation while reporting on the murder of Rohingya men and boys in Rakhine State by the military. A police captain, Moe Yan Naing, told the court during their case that his commander ordered that the two reporters be set up with secret documents. But the pair were still jailed.
They eventually served longer sentences than the troops convicted of the murders, while the captain who acknowledged that the journalists were set up was jailed and his family kicked out of their police accommodation.
When asked to comment, Suu Kyi said the reporters were in jail because they broke the law.
The self-styled democratic icon has come a long way since she was held up as an international champion of human rights.
While the NLD promised an economic boom, the population remain grindingly poor and large-scale projects offer residents nothing.
A special economic zone (SEZ) is planned for Kyaukphyu on the large island of Maday off the coast of impoverished Rakhine State.
It joins extensive oil and gas pipelines that deliver fossil fuels from the Indian Ocean to western China. There is also a deep-water port and crude oil storage tanks at the sprawling Shwe terminal in Kyaukphyu.
But vice chairman of the newly formed Arakan Front Party, Kyaw Lwin said the vast projects had only brought poverty and environmental destruction.
Farmers have watched their land stolen and fishing communities are denied access to their waters. They report dwindling fish stocks as the authorities do nothing to stop environmental destruction and large trawlers from Malaysia and Thailand over-fishing in Rakhine waters.
And human rights continue to be crushed by the military, despite Suu Kyi’s pre-election promises.
A former child soldier, Aung Ko Htwe, was released from Insein Prison last month.
He served in northern Shan State after being seized from the streets of Yangon as a 14-year-old.
“Why are clashes taking place today? For the interests of military leaders, not for the people and not for ethnic groups. While the children of military leaders are studying in foreign countries, soldiers are dying tragically,” Aung Ko Htwe told the media on his release from the infamous Yangon jail.
He was jailed under incitement charges for telling the media about his life as a child soldier. The message his jail term sends out is that it is legal to snatch children off the streets and send them to kill in bitter civil wars but illegal for that soldier to mention it.
The former child soldier, Aung Ko Htwe, was charged under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code, which is used to prosecute anyone who makes a statement which may cause “fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the state or against the public tranquillity”.
In 2005, Aung Ko Htwe was abducted at Yangon’s central train station and forced into military service in Shan State’s Laukkai Township.
After two years on the frontline, he escaped with two other conscripts but the owner of a motorbike they were allegedly trying to steal was strangled to death. Aung Ko Htwe denied responsibility but all three were charged with murder and sentenced to death. However, he was released in July 2017, after 10 years in prison.
He was rearrested that year after the military charged him with incitement for telling Radio Free Asia that he was abused by the authorities during his first trial. Aung Ko Htwe was jailed for two years plus six months for contempt of court as he boycotted the trial.
Again the message sent out by military-controlled judiciary is that it is legitimate to torture a suspect but illegal for them to mention it after their release.
Suu Kyi’s simple brand recognition will ensure her NLD performs well in next year’s general election but Myanmar’s population deserve far better leadership.
Myanmar’s population sees few signs of progress. Picture credit: Asean Economist