The moral low ground
The article by Nicholas Nugent on the impending Myanmar parliamentary elections (‘Faith in the polls, fear of the jurists’) expressed confidence in the Lady’s likelihood of winning the vote, despite an array of failures, including a weakening economy, drug-related insurgencies and the Rohingya and Covid crises.
All the pointers indicate he is right, with the poll – if it actually takes place amid rising Covid cases – looking set to go Aung San Suu Kyi’s way. Her plummeting international reputation over the Rohingyas and her shortcomings on the domestic front seem to have done little to impact her relative popularity at home, as she is still Myanmar’s most popular politician. Even her silence over the displacement of, and violence against, the Rohingya people has not affected this as much as one might expect, suggesting that prejudice against the Rohingyas is prevalent in Myanmar.
Nevertheless, although the Lady may well win, due to support from her core political base (especially the dominant Bamar ethnic group), I do not believe she will triumph, especially not morally. Her majority will surely not be a large one, in light of her government’s failure to develop a workable plan to give ethnic minority groups the autonomy they have long called. This has estranged these groups politically, meaning they will probably not ally with Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.
Added to calls, as Covid-19 cases rise, for the election to be postponed until a safer time are criticisms from human rights groups that Rohingya candidates, who fled to Bangladesh following the 2017/8 military clampdown, have been denied citizenship rights and therefore can neither run for office nor cast votes themselves. Also, an internet shutdown in parts of Rakhine State, where many Rohingya live, may well exclude many more minority voters.
For all its horrors, Covid-19 may do Myanmar a favour of sorts if it leads to a delay in the election taking place during restrictions which, at this stage, could well work against up-and-coming pro-democracy parties, and to the advantage of the ill-named National League for Democracy.
Jinnah: the man, not the myth
I enjoyed the write-up in your October edition by Syed Badrul Ahsan on Mohammad Ali Jinnah. It attempted to show the man rather than either icon or pariah, with all his human strengths and flaws, double standards, and measure of self-awareness.
Jinnah had many good qualities and beliefs – for example, his protection of minorities and espousal of female equality and education for all – yet he will forever be linked to, and to a large degree blamed for, the bloodbath of Partition, due to his demand for a separate Pakistan.For all his intelligence and judgement, he made a grave mistake in taking Muslim identity as a basis for the creation of Pakistan, as the inevitable result of that would be a Theocracy, which Jinnah did not desire or believe in.
I was very impressed by The Democracy Forum’s excellent line-up of panellists at its recent virtual seminar on China. The breadth and depth of knowledge the speakers displayed, and the scope of material discussed, made this an important debate that we, across the political and global spectrum, could certainly benefit from more of.
There is, of course, an obvious irony in the fact that such free and open debate is not possible in China itself, as evidenced by Howard Zhang’s alarming examination of censorship and surveillance in Chinese social media, and Ties Dams’ philosophical assessment of the reasons behind China’s fear of the open society.
But, as Professor Jinghan Zeng so fluently pointed out, other threats to the global order exist, from both left and right, east and west, which may not yet be taken seriously enough. The day we close down any debate on any subject whatsoever is the day we lose our sense of civilisation. I am no fan of China, but I think it has plenty of company on the oppression front.
Please keep up the good work, Democracy Forum. I look forward to future debates.