As elections near, political parties in Myanmar must find a way to work together

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 August, 2015, 1:43am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 August, 2015, 8:33am

The people of Myanmar, foreign governments and investors want the political transition to a democracy to be smooth. They hope elections in November to select a parliament will be able to usher in an era of peace and prosperity. Trouble-free campaigning is being counted on to enshrine that process, but ructions in the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy do not auger well. Consensus-building, whether in politics or negotiations with ethnic groups, is the key to the nation's development.

President Thein Sein's government, dominated by former generals and army officers, has promised free and fair elections and an acceptance of the results. The NLD's victory, if a poll in 1990 and a by-election in 2012 are any guide, seems assured. It is therefore troubling that the union's chairman, parliament speaker Shwe Mann, and supporters, were last week purged from their party posts. No reason was given, but the manner in which they were removed point to differences of opinion.

The same would seem to apply to the NLD. Days earlier, 10 members were expelled for protesting against the list of election candidates that had excluded a number of high-profile figures. Among them was Ko Ko Gyi, the charismatic leader of student protests in 1988. There is growing criticism within the NLD's ranks that it is overly conservative and autocratically run.

Shwe Mann was among the few in his party willing to deal with Suu Kyi. He supported the NLD's unsuccessful bid to amend the constitution, which gives the army 25 per cent of parliamentary seats and assures it a dominant position in the nation's highest authority, the National Defence and Security Council. The two met on Monday and agreed to form an alliance - although what that means in practice is unclear.

The splits in the parties outwardly appear to be about protecting vested power interests. But if Myanmar is to attain the lasting peace it so badly needs, all sides have to work together at all levels of the political process.