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Voices From the 2015 Burmese Elections: Aye Aye San

Article by Christopher Walsh October 19, 2015 //   5 minute read

The southeast Asian nation of Burma (also known as Myanmar) is set to hold nationwide multiparty elections on November 8, the first since 1990 when the country’s former military junta denied the opposition a landslide victory and put Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. 

This week, Burmese Young Leaders participating in the Bush Institute’s Liberty and Leadership Forum will offer their perspective on the upcoming elections and the future of their country. Today we’re featuring an interview with Aye Aye San, a senior program coordinator at the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections (PACE).

What should Americans understand about Burma’s upcoming elections?

This is the first election in 25 years. Ninety-one parties will compete for 440 seats nationwide. Almost all the major opposition parties will compete, including Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD [National League for Democracy]. Whoever wins the popular vote may or may not be able to form a government as the President who forms the cabinet is not directly elected [by the people]. According to a recent government announcement, all the areas controlled by ethnic armed organizations will not participate in [the elections] for security reasons. We don't know how free and fair it will be, but both local and international independent [election] observers will be permitted.

Would you give a brief description of your work in Burma?

[I work for] PACE, an independent, non-partisan NGO, to encourage greater participation in the political process, particularly the electoral process. In this election, PACE will deploy more than 2,000 citizen observers to monitor how the election complies with existing laws and regulations.

How can the Burmese people help promote free and fair elections in their country?

First, they have to make sure that their right to vote is fully respected. Second, they must choose whether or not to vote. Third, if they decide to vote, they should make an informed choice. Finally, they must make sure that their voting choice is fully respected [by the government].

How do free societies like the United States promote free and fair elections in Burma?

They support the process technically – including trainings for parties, candidates, and election officials. They send clear signals to the government that the international community will not accept flawed elections that are neither free nor fair. They also contribute by sending independent international observers to monitor the process and deter practices that threaten the election’s fairness.

How has the Liberty and Leadership Forum changed you as a leader during this important time for your country?

During my time in the United States participating in the Liberty and Leadership Forum, I had a great opportunity to learn from professors and classroom discussion about American history, particularly its challenges, successes, and milestones on the path to becoming a more mature democracy. Daily classes also offered useful management practices. Outside the classroom, my colleagues and I visited Washington, D.C. (going to sites like the U.S. Capitol, museums, White House, and the Supreme Court). Visiting Washington gave me hope for building a more democratic Myanmar. It also inspired me to become more active in my country’s affairs, especially creating jobs, promoting civic education, and strengthening democratic processes.

After joining the Liberty and Leadership Forum, my dream is for Myanmar to become a strong, democratic nation. More so than before the program, I can think more strategically about planning my organization’s upcoming election observation.
What will Burma look like after the elections?  What do you hope Burma will look like between now and the next elections?

Myanmar will look different in many ways.

Administrative reforms, which are ongoing now, will improve the relationship between citizens and the state.

The international community will continue strengthening its relationship with Myanmar.  The opening in my country provides an excellent opportunity for engagement that prevents Myanmar sliding back into a failed, isolated state capable of destabilizing the region.

If Myanmar moves in the right direction, in terms of democratization, expect progress on national reconciliation and economic reform, quality of life, security, and human dignity; additionally, the global community will have a dependable ally, with a market of 50 million people, that contributes to international peace and prosperity.