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Burma’s steps into democracy

In 2010, Burma began taking its first steps to becoming a democracy when the country held its first general election in 20 years. The election was not met with much vigour from the UN when the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) claimed a landslide victory. There were allegations of widespread fraud and many countries saw the election as a sham.

However, a year after being released from house arrest, Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has been sworn into the Burmese parliament after winning a number of by-elections. This is the first time that Ms Aung San Suu Kyi has held office within the country. After initially refusing to be a part of the parliament, she eventually agreed to compromise with the ruling USDP.

The NLD’s place in the Burmese Parliament is the most recent step the former military state has taken towards becoming a fully integrated democracy. In October of last year the new government released 200 political prisoners and introduced new labour laws allowing for the creation of unions.

In November, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) decided that Burma would chair the regional bloc in 2014. In December, US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, held talks with the current Burmese president, Thein Sein and met with Ms Aung San Suu Kyi. Ms Clinton claimed that she would push to improve relations between Burma and the US if democratic reform continued. In the same month, President Thein Sein signed a law allowing peaceful protest within the country.

Since then, hundreds more prisoners have been freed, including those involved with the 1988 student protest movement and monks who took part in the 2007 protests. In April of this year the NLD won 43 of the 45 seats in the parliamentary by-elections. Recently, Ms Aung San Suu Kyi was also granted a passport by the government for the first time.

The changes that have taken place within Burma over the past few years have helped ease its relationship with the west. However, many activists still feel that Burma is lagging behind the other Asian democratic nations. NLD MP Sandar Min on a recent visit to Australia stated: “I feel very sad every time I visit a democratic country because I can see with my own eyes how far behind our country has fallen.” Burma is taking many of the right steps towards becoming a democracy, but the feeling within the NLD is that much more is still needed to fix the mistakes of the previous regime.

15/05/2012

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