Indian analysts welcome democracy in Myanmar


    NEW DELHI: Analysts in India Monday welcomed the prospect of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Myanmar’s pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi forming the next government after elections on Sunday, billed as the first free nationwide polls in 25 years.

    Official results are yet to be declared by the Myanmarese election authorities but Suu Kyi has claimed victory, according to a Reuters report.

    The NLD’s victory claims seems to have been bolstered by Myanmar’s ruling party Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) acting chairman Htay Oo conceding defeat.

    The Myanmar election commission said the NLD won 49 of the 54 seats declared so far for the 440-strong lower house, where – under the constitution drawn up by the former junta – a quarter of the seats are unelected and reserved for the military.

    Official results also showed that Sunday’s election had handed the NLD a landslide win in the battle for regional assemblies, with Suu Kyi’s party winning 97 of the 107 seats declared so far for local legislatures and the USDP just three.

    The process of government formation is expected to be complex given that reservation of seats for the military and that under the provisions of the present constitution, it will be representatives of the military who will be appointed to three powerful ministries—border security, defence and internal security.

    Despite the complexities, Indian analysts welcomed the prospects of an NLD government taking office in Myanmar. In 1990, the military had dismissed the results of polls held that year which gave the NLD a victory and placed Suu Kyi under house arrest that lasted till 2011.

    “The formation of a government by the NLD, if it takes place, will be positive for India-Myanmar relations,” said Vivek Katju, a former Indian ambassador to Myanmar.

    C.U.Bhaskar, an analyst with the Society for Policy Studies think-tank based in New Delhi, agreed. “India has long held that having more democracies in its neighborhood is more desirable. For India, if the NLD comes to power, it will be a cause for satisfaction because India has been nudging Myanmar in this direction for long,” Bhaskar said.

    If the results are along expected lines with the NLD coming to office, “I don’t think there will be any change in our engagement with Myanmar. I expect both sides will adjust to the new political dynamics of the situation,” Bhaskar said, pointing out that India had a good equation with the Myanmar government in the 1950s and 1960s.

    Soon after the military takeover in Myanmar, India offered support to Suu Kyi. In 1993, India awarded Suu Kyi the Jawarharlal Nehru Award for international understanding, but within the space of a couple of years changed tack after realizing that insurgent groups operating in the northeast were able to establish bases in Myanmar. India has a more than 1,000 km border with Myanmar.

    As part of its engagement with Myanmar, India has been investing in infrastructure projects, exploring oil and gas blocks and offering credit. Those ties continued even after the government of former president Thein Sein came to power after the 2011 elections—seen by the international community as a nominally civilian government.

    Currently, India’s total estimated investment in Myanmar is close to $720 million. In the energy sector many Indian companies including the state run Oil and Natural Gas corporation of India (ONGC) have investment in Myanmar.

    India has also provided lines of credit and grants worth $1.7 billion to Myanmar.

    India’s leaning towards the military administration had saddened her, the India-educated Suu Kyi said in an interview to the Hindu newspaper shortly before her visit to India in November 2012, two years after being released from two decades of house arrest in November 2010.

    When asked if Suu Kyi’s reservations about India’s engagements with the military government would have any impact on India-Myanmar ties if the NLD comes to power, Bhaskar said: “I do not expect this will have a bearing on bilateral ties. India’s engagement with the military government was out of compulsion and necessity. And India was not the only government to engage with the junta.”

    One of India’s key concern is the presence of anti-India rebel bases in Myanmar. Earlier this year, the two countries launched a joint operation to hunt down a group of militants who had ambushed an Indian military convoy in Manipur killing 18 soldiers. This was not the first time such a joint operation was carried out; previous instances include one in 2005.

    “If the NLD comes to power, the government may be less sympathetic to such requests from India in the future because a democratic government would find such an operation difficult to justify as compared to a military government,” said S.D. Muni, a former professor for South Asian Studies at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University.

    Another concern for India is the presence of China in Myanmar—with investments, projects and support. According to Muni, China’s influence and presence in the region “cannot be wished away. It will continue and both India and Myanmar will have to deal with it.”

    ©2015 the Mint (New Delhi) / Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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