IDG Acumen Analysis
Elections – what does the vote mean?
On November 8, Myanmar will hold general elections and it looks as though Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition NLD party will win the greatest share of votes, signaling a sea-change from more than five decades of military rule and beckoning the next phase of Myanmar’s transition. However, even if it were certain that the NLD will win an outright majority on 8 November, it is still far from clear who will comprise or lead the next government. And it will be around another six months before anyone finds out. …So what are people voting for?
The electorate will be voting in their constituencies for parliamentary members of both the upper and lower houses at the national level and at the state/regional parliament level.
The next national parliament will convene as early as March 2016. The military automatically have 25% of the seats in both houses – these are direct military appointments, in addition to the military-affiliated incumbent USDP party. The parliaments will be split into three groups: the lower house (excluding military); the upper house (excluding military); and the military appointees. Each group will vote for a presidential candidate. These three candidates will then be taken for a vote before an assembly comprising of all three groups.
Even if the NLD have the requisite majority to unilaterally choose the president, it is not clear who their candidate will be. Suu Kyi is barred under the constitution from being president or vice-president as she has foreign children. Thura Shwe Mann, the speaker of the lower house and a senior ex-general, could still be a frontrunner. He has good ties with Suu Kyi and has built on his reformist credentials. On 13 August, however, he was unexpectedly deposed as head of the USDP party in an internal party coup, which did not follow party rules and was implemented using armed guards. He is still running as a USDP candidate and retains his position as speaker of the lower house.
In an interview on 7 October, Suu Kyi said that the NLD presidential candidate would be from within the party, undermining expectations that she would put her weight behind Shwe Mann. It is not clear who an NLD candidate might be, as many of the senior figures in the party are very old, and Suu Kyi appears to have followed a common Burmese political trait in running her party along autocratic lines, and not fostering much depth in leadership. In this vein, it is likely that she might view the appointment of a weak NLD candidate positively. In the same interview she stated: ‘If the NLD wins the elections and we form a government, I'm going to be the leader of that government whether or not I'm the president.’ She reiterated this at her last press conference on 5 November, just three days before the elections saying she would be ‘above’ the president.
It is also possible that Thein Sein will remain as President for a couple of years, in a compromised, phased transition. What is certain is that the six months between the elections and the appointment of a government offer plenty of opportunity for instability and political maneuvering.
So what does this mean for investors looking at Myanmar? What would be a positive outcome?
No parties really have a manifesto, and all the credible presidential candidates have reformist credentials. To this end, it does not so much matter who ends up as president. What matters is that one is appointed, the constitution is upheld and that the democratic transition retains its credibility. The greatest threat to this is from conservative forces within the government and military. The recent report by Global Witness into Myanmar’s illicit jade industry has estimated that the trade generated as much as 30 billion USD last year alone. The report makes clear that there are some in Myanmar who still benefit under the current system, and stand to lose under the reform process.
So the premium is on stability, and avoiding a volatile situation in which conservative forces might act with political violence. …Myanmar has six months to hold its breath. While no one can credibly predict what will happen, the political wind feels like it is pointing in a positive direction.
A constitutional government transition will allow Myanmar to continue its process of legislative reform and increasing institutional capacity. Key investment and banking laws, for instance, did not get passed before the end of the last parliamentary session.
It is also worth noting that in the short term, until a new government is formed, any minister who is running for election has had to resign and the ministry is now run by a permanent secretary. It is not clear what authority these civil servants will have in practice to sign off on many of the licenses and permissions required by foreign entities wishing to make an investment, though they do in theory have ministerial signing authority.
Furthermore, whatever happens in the elections, some of the most important ministries remain under direct military control: Defence, Border Affairs and Home Affairs. The latter includes the police force, special branch, immigration, and the General Administration Department (GAD), which staffs all regional and state-level governments and provides administration for the country's multiple districts and townships. These bodies are also responsible for the execution and security of the elections at a local level.
While Suu Kyi cannot rule as president, a weak NLD candidate would afford her greater influence in running the country. A coalition is likely; it is also desirable in order to balance democratic progress with governing experience, and to ensure that the different constituencies of power, democratic or not, do not feel alienated from the democratic reform process.
IDG Acumen is a corporate intelligence and political risk consultancy with offices in Yangon, Bangkok and Singapore
Twitter: IDG Acumen@Acumen_Myanmar
Aung San Suu Kyi holds large rally in Yangon a week before elections.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi addressed a huge rally on the outskirts of Myanmar's biggest city today, offering a message of reconciliation with political opponents if her party sweeps the upcoming general election. Suu Kyi also called for calm and stability as the campaign period nears its end ahead of the November 8 election. Tens of thousands of ecstatic National League for Democracy supporters swarmed onto a large playing field, waiting for hours in the blazing sunshine for Suu Kyi to make her entrance. She had hoped to hold the rally in the center of Yangon, near the revered Shwedagon Pagoda, reviving memories of her first-ever political speech in 1988, but city authorities refused her request. The 1988 speech put her on a collision course with the then-military junta and marked the beginning of Suu Kyi's long and often difficult political odyssey. Just days after an NLD member was wounded in a stabbing, Suu Kyi asked the crowds to maintain stability right up to the end of campaigning. Without naming names, she said that "there are some who are thinking to use bad ways to try to win." Suu Kyi spent 15 years under house arrest under the former military dictatorship. She was finally released five years ago. The junta stepped back from power in 2011 with the election of President Thein Sein, and the country has moved toward democratization, though the military still maintains a powerful position. Though her party is expected to do well in the election, Suu Kyi herself is constitutionally barred from the presidency because her late husband was British and her two sons hold foreign passports.
Speaker rejects responsibility for ruling party’s election results
Ousted Union Solidarity and Development Party chair Thura U Shwe Mann further evidenced the threat of a ruling party split last weekend as he abdicated responsibility for the party’s election results and acknowledged that his collaboration with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi could have played a part in his dismissal. The former general, 68, who retains his position as Speaker of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw despite being dramatically stripped of his seat at the top of party leadership in an internal coup last August, was addressing constituents in Pyu, Bago Region, his hometown. Currently an MP for Zeyathiri in military stronghold Nay Pyi Taw, some believe the former third-ranking official in the pre-2011 junta swapped constituencies for fear angry officers would vote him out for backing changes to the military-drafted constituted. He is suspected to have antagonised former military allies by threatening the constitutionally guaranteed 25 percent bloc of parliament held by the officers. Before his ouster, however, he successfully stacked the USDP ticket with a cast of supporters, while blocking some military elites requests for “safe seats”. In some cases USDP candidates currently running who were selected by Thura U Shwe Mann are directly opposing supporters of the president. In tiny Kayah state for instance, two government ministers, U Soe Thein and U Aung Min, are running as independents against two “official” USDP candidates nominated by the Speaker. Asked if the division in the USDP between supporters of President U Thein Sein and his own followers was related to his close working relations with opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, he said on October 30, “It might be.” “It is an issue in the party. Some members agree with me that we need to collaborate for the good of our country. But the other side doesn’t see that,” he said. Thura U Shwe Mann also took pains to distance himself from the conduct of the ruling party’s election campaign which has been riddled with allegations of vote buying and intimidation tactics. “As chair, I was responsible for waging and winning the campaign in free and fair elections. I no longer have that responsibility,” he told the media. In previous interviews the Speaker has gone so far as to suggest that even bolstered by the military bloc, a majority for the men in green remains elusive. A formal general who shed his own uniform to take part in the ruling party, U Shwe Mann has widely broadcast his presidential ambitions creating yet another power struggle in the party between backers of President U Thein Sein’s administration and those in the Speaker’s corner. Just last week, speaking in his constituency, Thura U Shwe Mann appeared to reignite the internal party conflict by proposing that the USDP nominee for the presidency should be selected by MPs, rather than by a closed-door decision of the party’s executive committee. Observers believe such a manoeuvre would favour his own aspirations for the presidency. The Speaker’s nomination push was prompted by a BBC interview last month, where party general secretary U Tin Naing Thein said that if the USDP secured a majority in parliament next month it would nominate U Thein Sein for a second five-year term. Issuing a plea for electoral candidates not to see rival parties as the enemy, and a perhaps veiled attempt to address his party’s upheaval, U Shwe Mann said in Pyu that collaboration is badly needed. “Democratic reform cannot be carried out by one individual or group. All parties need to join in. This campaign has seen some strong competition in a delicate situation. I am very sorry to see some parties treating their opponents as enemies rather than competitors, and hope that is not the case in my constituency,” the Speaker said. On October 31, Thura U Shwe Mann urged voters to back high-quality candidates of good will who vowed to serve the people. “We should all be aware of the need for national solidarity, national reconciliation, making peace and respecting the rule of law. Refusing to participate because we don’t like a person or a group on the other side could be dangerous for the country,” he said. Senior civil servants in charge of government departments should act without bias, supporting the rule of law by recognising that nobody is above the law, he said.
Myanmar's radical monks shaping historic elections
A powerful Buddhist ultranationalist group is helping Myanmar's ruling party win votes in Sunday's election after the government pushed through laws seen as anti-Muslim. Known by its Burmese initials Ma Ba Tha, the Buddhist nationalist group is not running a single candidate in the Nov. 8 election - monks are barred by law from running for office. Yet it has been in the forefront of campaigning and could influence the shape of Myanmar's first popularly elected government in more than half a century. For the first time, a Ma Ba Tha co-founder, a monk named Parmaukkha, disclosed some of the details about closed-door discussions between the group and the government on securing the passage of the bills. The laws require citizens to seek government approval to convert to a different religion, force some women to have children at least three years apart and set punishments for having more than one spouse. An overwhelming majority of Myanmar citizens are Buddhist. The new laws discriminate against Muslims and women and could stoke religious tensions, human rights groups say. The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) used its parliamentary majority to push through the laws in the belief that "Ma Ba Tha would help them get votes in the election," said Parmaukkha, who helped found the group in 2013. "They know we are a strong organisation." Tha Win, a USDP lawmaker and senior party official in Yangon, denied any connections with Ma Ba Tha. "We're just engaged in politics. Our party's rules don't allow us to carry out religious affairs." Parmaukkha's description of Ma Ba Tha's role was also challenged by the group's spokesman, Thurain Soe, who said his organisation was grateful for USDP's help in enacting the laws, but was not supporting any party. "We needed our religious four bills. Who could we ask? We needed to ask this government. This is a very normal process," Thurain Soe said through a translator. "We thank the president and the parliament. But it's just 'thank you', not supporting (the USDP in the election)." Ma Ba Tha's influence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar might prove crucial in the election campaign, especially in rural areas where monastic authority is unquestioned. Its influence might sway enough votes from Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) to deny the opposition party an all-important parliamentary majority, and save the USDP - created by the powerful military and chaired by President Thein Sein - from an embarrassing electoral debacle. Fearful of potential Ma Ba Tha intimidation, the NLD decided not to field any Muslim candidates on Nov. 8, two senior NLD leaders told Reuters. In recent years, religious violence in Myanmar has killed hundreds of people, mostly Muslims. Formally known in English as the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, Ma Ba Tha grew out of the "969" movement, also led by monks, which called for a ban on interfaith marriages and a boycott of Muslim businesses. Ma Ba Tha began cooperating closely with the government and the USDP in a series of meetings about the race and religion laws in 2014 and 2015, Parmaukkha said. One meeting in the capital Naypyitaw in May 2014 was attended by officials from the ministries of religion, immigration and home affairs, as well as presidential advisors, he said. Three other leading Ma Ba Tha monks confirmed that they had attended the May meeting to discuss the bills with the government task force. Members of the governmental team, including Soe Win, Myanmar's Minister of Religious Affairs, did not respond to requests for comments regarding the government's contacts with Ma Ba Tha. Ma Ba Tha's leadership has openly expressed support for the USDP and scorn for Suu Kyi. Wirathu, 47, one of the most prominent of the Ma Ba Tha monks, endorsed President Thein Sein in an interview, saying his administration "opened doors and worked step-by-step for peace and development." He poured scorn on Suu Kyi and her party, saying: "NLD people are so full of themselves. They don't have a high chance of winning in elections." Another monk who helped found Ma Ba Tha, Vimalabuddhi, said that since most of the USDP leaders are from the military they understood the situation in the country better than the NLD who were "politicians and civilians". "They don't really understand our situation," he said. Asked about these criticisms from Ma Ba Tha, senior NLD leader Win Htein told Reuters: "According to the teachings of Buddha, monks shouldn't get involved in political affairs. They should be neutral." He said Ma Ba Tha has targeted the NLD from the start for not being supportive of their race and religion laws and being more sympathetic to Muslims. "That's why we decided not to field any Muslim candidates, for fear of antagonising Ma Ba Tha, losing votes and failing to win a parliamentary majority. "It has caused some very hard soul-searching," he said.
Armed ethnic groups call for an end to Myanmar military offensives
The leaders of 11 armed ethnic groups that did not sign a nationwide ceasefire accord with the Myanmar government last month have called for an end to military offensives in the country during a three-day summit just a few days before citizens head to the polls to elect government representatives. The summit, held at the headquarters of the United Wa State Army — Myanmar’s largest ethnic rebel group — in Pangsang, Wa Special Region, ended Tuesday with the groups issuing a seven-point statement urging the government army to stop its offensives in the northern and eastern parts of the country. “We urge the current government to stop military offensives and to create good opportunities for national reconciliation,” the statement said. “We also reject resolving problems by fighting and urge that they be resolved through political means. We all wish to move forward to political dialogue together with a new government that will be born after the election.” “We also urge an end to the fighting in the northern and eastern parts of Myanmar and to make peace in the China-Myanmar border area by discussing together with government, military, armed ethnic groups and representatives from the Chinese government,” it said. Clashes between government troops and ethnic armies have forced tens of thousands of villagers to flee their homes and resulted in some casualties among government soldiers and rebel troops. Some ethnic regions have controversially cancelled elections for security reasons. The government signed a so-called nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) with eight armed ethnic groups on Oct. 15 in an attempt to bring peace to the country before the Nov. 8 general elections and proceed with political dialogue in the developing democracy early next year. More than half of the country’s rebel groups, however, did not sign the document. Besides the UWSA, the others groups that participated in the summit in eastern Shan state included the Kachin Independence Organization, Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army, New Mon State Party, Karenni National Progressive Party, National Democratic Alliance Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Arakan Army (AA), Karen National Defense Organization and Kayan New Land Party. The Naga Nationalist Socialist Council was also invited, but representatives said they could not attend because the distance to the summit was too far to travel. The conference was the second one organized by the UWSA, which hosted a six-day summit in May to discuss a draft NCA and call on the government to include all ethnic rebel armies in the final accord. After that conference, representatives had issued a statement urging Myanmar’s army to cease fighting with the MNDAA in Shan state’s Kokang region, the TNLA in northern Shan state, and the AA in eastern Myanmar’s Rakhine state, and called for an end to human rights violations committed by government troops in ethnic areas. Several ethnic armies have been fighting with the government since Myanmar gained independence from Britain in 1948, and the ongoing unrest is seen as hindering economic development in the impoverished country. Ethnic groups represent around 40 percent of Myanmar’s 52 million people, but say they suffer military abuses and discrimination.
Looking back - As election day approaches, it is worth remembering what happened 25 years ago, the last time Myanmar had a free and fair poll—and by regional standards, that election was astonishingly free and fair. But the euphoria of May 27, 1990, when the National League for Democracy (NLD) scored a landslide victory, turned into dismay and frustration when, exactly two months later, on July 27, 1990, the then ruling junta, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), issued “Announcement 1/90” declaring that only the junta “has the right to legislative power”—and that “the representatives elected by the people” would merely be “responsible for drafting a new constitution for a future democratic state.” I and other journalists who covered events in Myanmar remember the disbelief we felt at the time. Could that really be true? Among the Burmese people inside the country who we contacted, there was outright anger. “1/90” contradicted earlier promises by the SLORC and what was a very clear election result. As early as on Sept. 22, 1988— four days after the military had formed SLORC and brutally put an end to more than a month of daily demonstrations for democracy—Myanmar’s powerful intelligence chief and Secretary-1 in the new junta, (then) Brig.-Gen. Khin Nyunt had pledged before a meeting with foreign military attachés in Yangon: “Elections will be held as soon as law and order has been restored and the Defence Services would then systematically hand over power to the party which wins.” (quoted from SWB, FE/0265 1, 24 Sep 1988) He did not say a word about the need to draft a new constitution. On May 31, 1989, so about a year before the election, the SLORC passed “Law 14/89” which, according to the announcement “shall be called the Pyithu Hluttaw Election Law.” A Pyithu Hluttaw in Burmese is a “people’s assembly”, in other words, a parliament. According to the 1974 Constitution, which had been promulgated by a previous military regime, “The Pyithu Hluttaw is the highest organ of state power. It exercises sovereign powers of the State on behalf of the people.” A constituent assembly, on the other hand, is not a Pyithu Hluttaw but a Thaing Pyi Pyu Hluttaw, as in the Myanma naing-ngan Thaing Pyi Pyu Hluttaw, the body that drafted Myanmar’s first constitution in 1947. That term was never used before the May 1990 election. But this has not prevented many foreign observers from claiming otherwise in more recent times, thus distorting the whole purpose of the 1990 election. Most recently, Geoffrey Goddard, an Australian journalist and a former editor at the Myanmar Times, wrote in the April 2015 issue of the Mizzima Weekly that the 1990 election was not for “a parliament. It was an election for a constituent assembly.” And who were the sources Goddard referred to? Derek Tonkin, a retired British diplomat who more than anybody else has been busy rewriting history, and Robert Taylor, a well-known defender of successive authoritarian regimes in Myanmar. An even more extreme view is held by Kristoffer Rønneberg, a Norwegian journalist, who stated in his recent book Veien to Mandalay: En reise fra Myanmar til Myanmar (“The Road to Mandalay: A Journey from Myanmar to Myanmar”) that “there are many people today who believe that the election was about a new government…this myth has been used by activists and oppositionists since 1990…the election was about a constituent assembly…this was known by everyone who took part in the election.” Michael Lidauer, a German academic, writes in Myanmar/Myanmar: Where Now?, a book published last year by the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies: “Immediately prior to the polls, SLORC announced that it would only hand over power to a civilian government after a new constitution had been written. This process lasted for two decades.” His source? Derek Tonkin. Hans-Berndt Zöllner, another German writer, states in his The Beast and the Beauty that “material” from the time “clearly supports Tonkin’s conclusion.” This falsified version of history has even found its way into Wikipedia: “The elections were not meant to form a parliamentary government, but rather to form a parliament sized constitutional committee to draft a new constitution.” The reference here is to pages 90-93 in Myanmar/Myanmar: What Everyone Needs to Know, a well-written book by American Myanmar scholar David Steinberg. But on those pages Steinberg writes only that “the junta had publicly stated almost a year before the election that those elected could not form a government until there was a new constitution.” Steinberg is not more precise than that and it is uncertain when and how the SLORC stated such a thing, which would be contrary to everything else that was said at the time. On Jan. 18, 1989, I and several other Bangkok-based journalists were flown to Myanmar on a trip organized by Myanmar’s military authorities, and on that day we had a meeting with Col. Ye Htut from the SLORC’s information committee (not to be confused with the current minister of information with the same name). He stated clearly and unambiguously that “as soon as elections have been held, we will hand over power to the party that wins and return to the barracks.” I asked him if they would do so even in the event of an NLD victory. The colonel replied: “Of course, we are soldiers and keep our word. We will return to the barracks.” Present at that time was, apart from myself, the regional bureau chief of the Associated Press and other foreign correspondents. Gen. Saw Maung, the SLORC chairman, said on Jan. 9, 1990 at a meeting between the central junta and its local divisions held “at the office of the Commander-in-Chief”: “We have spoken about the matter of State power. As soon as the election is held, form a government according to law and then take power. An election has to be held to bring forth a government. That is our responsibility. But the actual work of forming a legal government after the election is not the duty of the Tatmadaw [the military]. We are saying it very clearly and candidly right now.” That speech was reproduced in full in the Jan. 10, 1990 issue of the official organ, The Working People’s Daily. Drafting a new constitution was not an issue before the election. On the contrary, Gen. Saw Maung even lashed out against the NLD for raising the issue of a constitution—which some of its activists were doing at the time. In a speech on May 10, 1990—two weeks prior to the election—Gen. Saw Maung stated: “A dignitary who was once an Attorney-General talked about the importance of the constitution. As our current aim is to hold the election as scheduled we cannot as yet concern ourselves with the Constitution as mentioned by that person. Furthermore it is not our concern. A new Constitution can be drafted. An old Constitution can also be used after some amendments.” (sic., Working People’s Daily, May 11, 1990). “That person” was former Attorney-General U Hla Aung, who was close to the NLD and, at the time, researching constitutional issues for the pro-democracy movement. I met him in Yangon in February 1989 and spent a whole afternoon with him. He showed me how the 1947 Constitution could be used with certain amendments, and I remember the huge chart he put on the table in his home in a Yangon suburb. It was impressive—but the SLORC didn’t think so. They told him to shut up. So what statement could Steinberg possibly be referring to in his book, which was quoted by Wikipedia? Myanmar’s then powerful intelligence chief, Maj-Gen Khin Nyunt, made a curious statement, not “almost a year before the election”, but on April 13, 1990, so just over a month before the election. According to him: “The Cabinet cannot be formed just after the election…the Cabinet is to be formed in accordance with the constitution.” That day, Reuters quoted a diplomat in Yangon as describing the statement as “the first categorically saying that the military won’t hand over power until a constitution is in place…it is the fist showing through the velvet glove.” Khin Nyunt, as head of intelligence, probably knew more about public sentiments than any of the other members of SLORC. He had begun to realize that the NLD was going to win—and this was the way out of the looming predicament. Not much attention was paid to Khin Nyunt’s statement, which clearly contradicted what he had said in 1988. But we in the media who were following events in Myanmar concluded that this would be the excuse if the NLD won. Our suspicions, which we wrote about at the time, have in more recent years been used by Tonkin to “prove” that the election was for a constituent assembly and not a parliament. The diplomat quoted by Reuters remarked that drafting a new constitution could delay the process by “months, perhaps years,” and Suu Kyi had already expressed similar fears the previous year, in an interview with Asiaweek before she was placed under house arrest in July 1989. At the same time, it is worth remembering what Robert Taylor said before, as opposed to after, the 1990 election when he also began writing about a “constituent assembly”. In a lengthy article in the March 1990 issue of Current History, Taylor wrote: “The elections are to select a new national assembly (Pyithu Hluttaw) but it is not clear how and when the military will pass power to a government formed under the elected legislature…but no one familiar with Myanmar’s political history expects the military to abandon all its administrative and political functions after the formation of a new government.” So, according to Taylor, the elections was definitely for a Pyithu Hluttaw, a legislature”, and not a constituent assembly. The only question was when the new government would be formed. Taylor could safely write what he did because he also stated this about the military-backed National Unity Party, the successor to the Myanmar Socialist Program Party, the only legally permitted party from after the military takeover in 1962 until 1988: “Many observers feel that it will do well in the election.” The argument at the time was that the NLD may be strong in urban areas, whereas in the countryside people would vote for “the devil they know”. Taylor could not have been more wrong. When the votes were counted after the 1990 election, the NLD captured 392 out of 485 contested seats—all over the country, in urban as well as rural areas. By comparison, the NUP secured only 10 seats. It may be argued that the NUP, after all, got a bit over 20 per cent of the popular vote, but only a tiny fraction of the seats because Burmese elections are not proportional. But no matter how one looks at it, the NUP was routed—and the military had to create an entirely new political platform, that, in 1993, became the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), which was renamed the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in 2010. The issue at stake, of course, is that Khin Nyunt was right: the NLD had massive support, the “wrong” party had won, so the rules had to change. Within days of his July 27, 1990 announcement, his military intelligence—which was more of secret police than an actual intelligence service—launched a massive campaign against elected NLD MPs. By the end of the year, 65 had been arrested, nearly a dozen had fled to neighboring countries such as Thailand and India, and many resigned voluntarily. Does anyone seriously believe that all this would have happened if the NUP had won the election? The elected Pyithu Hluttaw would no doubt have been convened within days and a new government formed, an interim one awaiting the drafting of a new constitution. But now, the elected Pyithu Hluttaw was never convened and, in the end, the elected assembly wasn’t even a Thaing Pyi Pyu Hluttaw. About 100 of the 485 MPs elected were to sit in a “National Convention” together with 600 other, non-elected representatives who had been handpicked by the military. And even if one accepts the notion that a new constitution would have to be drafted before the military could return to the barracks, the new legislature would have been vested with that task, not some obscure 700-person “National Convention”. Not even Tonkin and Taylor have the audacity to claim that anything like that was announced by Myanmar’s military authorities before the election. And contrary to what writers like Rønneberg believe, no one who took part in the 1990 election expected that to happen when they went to the polls 25 years ago. On his Network Myanmar website, Tonkin suggests that in October 1990, when “Daw Myint Myint Khin, a senior official of the NLD, signed on behalf of the NLD an undertaking to attend a National Convention to draft a new Constitution, the NLD had effectively surrendered its claim to have secured a mandate to govern at the May 1990 Elections.” But he fails to mention that Daw Myint Myint Khin, who had been a very principled pro-democracy activist during the 1988 uprising, had come under immense pressure to sign that statement, and that she subsequently resigned her position as member of the NLD’s Central Executive Committee. So what are the lessons we can draw from events before and after the 1990 election? The first would be that promises and pledges mean next to nothing when an election result is not to the liking of Myanmar’s military authorities. And if there are manipulations and threats, and the rules are changed at the whim of those in power, it is not unlikely that sometime in the future we will find the same or another cabal of assorted apologists and sycophants telling us that the 2015 election actually wasn’t about what we thought it was, but something totally different.