Whether Burma will become a democracy after parliamentary elections late next year rests not only on the integrity of that vote, Stanford University’s Larry Diamond writes for The Atlantic:
It also depends on what parliament does—or fails to do—to amend blatantly undemocratic provisions in the country’s current constitution. These give the military a quarter of the seats in parliament (and thus a veto over constitutional reform), control of the powerful National Defense and Security Council, and complete immunity from civilian oversight. They also continue to deny Burma’s minorities (about a third of the population) meaningful devolution of power and resources, and they effectively ban opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from contesting the presidency.
The problem is evident in the case of the besieged Muslim Rohingya minority, which mainly lives in Arakan (Rakhine) state in the west, bordering Bangladesh., who have borne the brunt of violence that has killed an estimated 300 Muslims and displaced a quarter of a million during this transitional period, he writes.
A broader campaign of Buddhist religious bigotry has gained momentum, inflamed by the “969 campaign” of extremist monks and lay followers. The most visible leader of the movement is the Mandalay-based monk Ashin Wirathu (above), who a decade ago was convicted and jailed (and later released) for inciting religious violence.
As a dozen former Nobel Peace laureates urged in an open letter last June, there needs to be “an international, independent investigation of the anti-Muslim violence in Burma,” says Diamond, founding co-editor of the Journal of Democracy and senior consultant at the International Forum for Democratic Studies of the National Endowment for Democracy:
It is especially crucial that moral and legal authorities be mobilized within Burma. So far, Catholic Archbishop Charles Bo has been one of the few prominent non-Muslim voices to explicitly defend the dignity and citizenship rights of the Rohingya. …..
Aung San Suu Kyi is a member of parliament whose eloquent commitment to nonviolence has been influenced by Mahatma Gandhi. But Gandhi unequivocally denounced all forms of intolerance. So did Nelson Mandela. If she wants to help deliver her country to the promised land of freedom, Suu Kyi must do the same.
“I learned the same painful lesson in my own Bosnia in the early 90s,” wrote Igor Blazevic, the director of Educational Initiatives, a training program for Burmese activists based in Thailand.
“Ethnic cleansing is never done by the spontaneous violence of a “mob” or by grassroots communities that allegedly hate each other. It is usually the work of well-trained paramilitary groups organized by elements of the security apparatus,” he wrote for Irrawaddy:
With democratization, tense ethnic relations are usually the first skeleton out of the closet. With political opening, the grievances and demands of the suppressed and discriminated groups surface in an open space characterized by a multi-party system, free media and freedom of association. Many of these demands and grievances fuel passionate nationalism which can create a lot of pressure on emerging democratic institutions.
“But there is another type of nationalism that is much more dangerous for emerging democracies,” says Blazevic, a leading member of the World Movement for Democracy.