Birmania. Aprite gli occhi.
Nowadays when I hear Burma pundits and “players” who counsel “pragmatism” and discuss the supposed potential for parliamentary space, the imagery that springs to mind is this: rows and rows of our MPs in their seats in the Hluttaw stealthily soiling their fine silk longyis, all robotically nodding and feigning attentiveness while Chairman Ne Win extolled the virtues and successes of “the Burmese Way.”(Beware of the Generals’ Elections)
Fast-forward to the post-2010 Pyithu Hluttaw. Pliant democratic MPs who have made it in the military’s electoral process aren’t likely to fight for the people, within or without this talked-up “space.” The regime will most certainly weed the defiant and assertive types out of its “discipline-flourishing democracy,” by keeping them behind bars, under house arrest or in exile, barring their candidacy or even disqualifying their election wins on trumped-up legal grounds.
Now the US and Britain have publicly indicated that they are willing to tango with “Naypyidaw men,” providing that the latter take certain steps to make the roadmap’s last act "free, fair and inclusive." Never mind that the regime has set the autopilot on “cheat” since its journey to “democracy” began.
It doesn’t appear to have a Plan B, though.
What can the opposition’s western supporters do if the 2010 elections are not fair, free or inclusive?
Concretely speaking, democratization is a multi-layered process and involves more than holding one-off political events such as elections or adopting a Constitution, or convening a parliament once or twice a year. Without institutionalizing legal regimes of human rights to protect citizens' and communities’ socio-cultural rights, as well as economic and political freedoms, no polity can be labeled democratic.
Unfortunately for the people, the “Naypyidaw men” have grown accustomed to power, privileges, wealtha and State protection, as well as adept at control, manipulation and domination over the public, economy and the State. As such, these men in the main are not going to be agents of change, regardless of whether engagement or isolation, sanctions or trade are pursued.
Burma’s sordid electoral history, the exceedingly illiberal nature of the ruling cliques and their unpredictable tactical teases—for instance, opaque talks of Aung San Suu Kyi’s release—should make pundits weary of the a-historical and deliberately naïve pro-election discourses.
When change does happen in Burma, for sure it will not be achieved through the generals’ elections.