Myanmar and Nepal: Two Nations Facing Uncertain Times
By Ashok Dixit
The political churnings in Nepal and Myanmar, two neighbouring nations with which India has warm and close diplomatic ties, is disconcerting, especially for those involved with managing the relationship bilaterally.
Though New Delhi has judiciously described the evolving situation in both countries as internal matters to be resolved by them, past experience suggests that a close monitoring is in order.
History reveals that both Nepal and Myanmar are political tinder boxes waiting to explode.
Let’s take Nepal first. Political rumblings have been on there since November 2020 and it is only now after nearly three months of internal political bickering, that Nepal’s Supreme Court has, in a landmark move, struck down Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s decision to dissolve Parliament as unconstitutional, ordered the restoration of the House of Representatives and called for a sitting of the House by 8 March.
Most see Nepal as a nation struggling to establish a credible constitutional structure after centuries of monarchical and semi-democratic authoritarian rule.
We only need to rewind to 20 December 2020. Facing pressure from rivals within his Nepal Communist Party (NCP), especially from former Prime Ministers Pushpa Kumar Dahal (a.k.a. Prachanda) and Madhav Kumar Nepal, incumbent PM Oli dissolved Parliament and declared snap polls on 30 April and 10 May respectively. His attempt to be a law unto himself sans accountability is being deemed unacceptable in an evolving democratic system.
For those unaware, Nepal has seen close to two dozen Prime Ministers in the last three decades of republican rule.
Projecting itself as a “well-wisher” of Nepal, Delhi has said it is always ready to assist Kathmandu in pursuing “the path of peace, prosperity and development.”
What the Nepal Supreme Court has done is that it has forced warring politicians to remain within the constitutional framework. Oli is under pressure to restore normalcy or to resign.
In this scenario, the Opposition Nepali Congress (NC) emerges as a deciding factor. The Prachanda-Madhav Kumar Nepal faction of NCP with 90 parliamentary seats and the Oli-led faction with 83 seats are both wooing it.
One thing the apex court ruling has done is that it has sent out a firm message to the world that democracy is still alive in Nepal.
Moving on to Myanmar! Again the violence and political developments taking place there isn’t surprising. Events over the past nearly 73 years of Independence are a clear pointer as to why this eastern neighbour of India is once again under military rule under the leadership of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
For all practical purposes, Myanmar has had a military-drafted Constitution in place since 2008 that gives the country’s Generals immense power and zero accountability.
A humiliating loss in last year’s General Election is being cited as the main reason for the military takeover from the democratically elected and popular Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy (NLD).The armed forces most definitely felt that they were being marginalised and hence moved to take control.
History reveals a lot. By and large, Burma or Myanmar has always been a country ravaged by internal strife and economic instability.
Since gaining Independence in 1948, it has experienced Communism, insurgent rule (by Chin, Kachin, and Shan minorities), military junta control and an apology of a civilian rule.
The only period of relative peace and economic recovery that it has had was between 1958 and 1962. Military rule has been the norm rather than the exception.
There was an Army-led Revolutionary Council between 1962 and 1972. This was followed by a military-controlled Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) till 1988. Post-1988, the BSPP was replaced by a new military body called the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), led by General Saw Maung. Burma’s name was then officially changed to Myanmar. In May 1990, Myanmar held its first multi-party elections after 30 years. Dozens of parties participated, but only one – an Opposition coalition called the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, secured a landslide victory.
A shocked SLORC refused to accept the poll result and continued with military rule, ignoring global recrimination. In 1997, we see the SLORC being replaced by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).
During this time, Suu Kyi was in and out of house arrest as she is seen as the fulcrum of democratic resistance by a suspicious military. In 2003, General Than Shwe was replaced by General Khin Nyunt and thereafter by General Soe Win.
China’s growing involvement with Myanmar in the first decade of the 21st century sees the latter enjoying both strategic and economic importance in the Asia-Pacific region for the first time after decades of self-imposed isolation. This prompts India to establish a diplomatic relationship with Myanmar.
The ratification of a new Constitution in 2008 raises only false hopes for civilian rule, as provisions in it ensure a leading role for the military in future Governments in Myanmar. Elections in 2010 only result in General Thein Sein assuming constitutional executive authority for the next eight years, though to his credit, he does pursue an agenda of political and social reforms.
General Elections held in November 2015 are the country’s first to be freely contested. The NLD forms the new Government, but the military leadership denies Suu Kyi the right to be President, replacing her with Htin Kyaw, a confidant. Suu Kyi is made Foreign Minister, Minister in the President’s Office and State Counsellor.
Cut to the present, we see three people assuming the office of President between 2016 and 2020 –Htin Kyaw, Myint Swe and Win Myint. In all these developments, Suu Kyi retains her State Counsellor position.
The country’s latest General Election on 8 November 2020 sees the NLD again winning a clear majority, making the military increasingly uncomfortable and convincing it to push through and highlight charges of electoral fraud and other irregularities.
Developments eventually came to a head in February this year, with the Army seizing power by invoking Articles 417 and 418 of the Constitution that allow it to declare a state of emergency.The coup, though widely condemned, however is unlikely to change in a country where military takeovers are par for the course.
(Ashok Dixit is a New Delhi-based former senior editor/journalist with leading multi-media news agencies Sputnik, ANI & IANS. He is also the son of India’s former National Security Advisor and Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit.)