Burma/Myanmar Sets Election Date

Myanmar's junta chief Than Shwe reviews an honor guard from his car on Armed Forces Day in the administrative capital of Naypyidaw on March 27, 2009. (Hla Hla Htay/AFP/Getty Images)


Burma's military government has set November 7, 2010 as the date for its long-awaited general election, the first in 20 years, amid widespread doubts over its legitimacy.

"The pre-election environment in Burma is dismal," says Asia Society's Suzanne DiMaggio, Director of Policy Studies, Asia Society and Director of the Task Force Report Current Realities and Future Possibilities in Burma/Myanmar.  "An estimated 2,000 political activists remain imprisoned, opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is still under house arrest, Burma's military leadership has made no effort to advance national reconciliation with democracy and minority groups, and the constitutional framework behind the elections automatically guarantees the military a quarter of the seats in parliament."

Critics are already characterizing the November 7 vote as a sham designed to cement military rule. "This will not be a fair and inclusive election," DiMaggio concurs.

However, she notes, "some element of change is on horizon .... If the generals begin to gradually shift leadership to a parliamentary government in the next few years and transfer meaningful power to civilian leaders, the door could open for political change. As Burma's current military leadership ages, it is preparing to pass the mantle of military command to a considerably younger set of leaders, with an age difference of some 20 years.

"The outcome of the election could, at a minimum, coincide with a new generation of military leaders. It remains to be seen whether this process will lead to fundamental change, or whether it will merely bring about the trappings of change with the next-generation military leadership in charge."

Focusing on America's role in these developments, DiMaggio suggested that "A widely perceived illegitimate election could be a setback for the Obama administration's new policy of re-engagement with Burma .... Nevertheless, the US would be well advised to take a long-term view—if it sets the bar too high at the outset, it could deny itself an effective role in helping to move Burma away from authoritarian rule and into the world community."

Asia Society set forth a set of recommendations ahead of the elections in its Task Force report Current Realities and Future Possibilities in Burma/Myanmar, which examines US policy in the country and the road ahead.