Disputed Elections–The U.S. And Myanmar, A Tale Of Two Countries

Did you hear about the disputed election held back in November? No, not that one. Surprise! One occurred in Myanmar, the country previously known as Burma. Weren’t aware of it? I’m not surprised.

Americans are so self-centered; we tend to ignore what is going on in far away places. But it would behoove us to keep up with events in other parts of the world. Why? For one thing, doing so will likely give us a different perspective on our own national situation. For another, what’s happening in Myanmar is forcing newly elected U.S. President Joe Biden to face his first major foreign policy test. Welcome to the job, Joe!

So, let’s begin at the beginning–always a good place to start. I’m betting most of us would be hard pressed to point out Myanmar on a world map. Well, the country’s located in Southeast Asia and shares borders with Bangladesh and China to the northwest, China to the northeast, Laos to the east, and Thailand to the southeast. As of 2017, it’s population was 54 million, 87% of whom are Buddhist. Myanmar is ethnically diverse with 135 different national races identified. Imagine how long their census form must be for race identification….

Myanmar gained its independence from Britain in 1948. A coup in 1962 began a half century of military rule. For approximately the last decade, the country has experienced democracy and was emerging from decades of strict military rule and isolationism. But that progress came to a screeching halt with a military coup on Monday. Tanks appearing outside the gates of the Parliament building tend to interrupt the normal flow of daily (and democratic) activities.

Monday’s a difficult day to begin with, but a pre-dawn raid made things especially dicey for Myanmar citizens. The country’s military detained recently elected (or not depending on which side you believe) President Suu Kyi and seized control of the country. The junta also removed 24 ministers and deputies from the government alleging election fraud. Around 400 members of Parliament are reportedly being detained in a large guest house (well, duh, it would have to be large to accommodate 400 “guests”) in the city of Naypiydaw. House party!!

So what happened in the November election? (In Myanmar that is.) The incumbent president’s National League for Democracy won the election by a landslide, taking 396 out of 476 seats. This result allowed the president to continue in power for 5 more years. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party won only 33 seats, and they were none too happy about their poor showing. In fact, they were very sore losers.

The military alleged “voting malpractice” claiming millions of irregularities in voter lists. Nevertheless, the country’s election commission announced on January 29th that there was no evidence to support such claims. The evidence of fraud was deemed, at best, “disputed.”

The commander of Myanmar’s military, Gen. Ming Aung Hlaing, had a letter sent to the president ordering a recount of the election results and a delay in the opening of Parliament “or else.” Oooooh! The “or else” of course was Monday’s coup and the president’s detention.

For President Suu Kyi, this result is déjà vu all over again. She and the military go way back–and not in a good way. Aung San Suu Kyi won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent resistance against the military dictatorship that kept her under house arrest for 15 years. At age 75, she may not make another 15 years of detention.

Gen Hlaing has now assumed (translate “grabbed”) power. The armed forces, so he says, are only assuming control for one year under emergency powers granted under Myanmar’s constitution. (And another emergency is likely to conveniently appear at the end of that one year, I’m thinking.) Myanmar’s military, officially known as the Tatmadew, already has its fingers pretty deep in the country’s political pie. The constitution, ratified back in 2008, guarantees the military 25% of the seats in parliament. Who wants 25% when you can seize power and have 100%?

And what does assuming power look like for Gen. Hlaing and the Tatmadew? It’s repressive. Phones, TV broadcasts, and the internet were cut or hindered by the military to counter dissent. Needless to say, Gen Hlaing doesn’t see eye to eye with the U.N. which considers the internet to be an essential mechanism for people to exercise their right to free information.

Back in the U.S., news of the coup has been met with concern and disapproval. In years past, the U.S. showed its disapproval of military rule of Myanmar with economic sanctions. Since the Southeast Asian country is heavily dependent on overseas aid, money speaks louder than words to Myanmar.

U.S. sanctions were lifted in 2016 after elections were held and a civilian government was established. Moves towards democracy meant more U.S. aid. President Biden has called on Myanmar’s military to relinquish power. To back up this request, he has threatened the imposition of sanctions. Moves away from democracy mean economic backlash for Myanmar. But perhaps General Hlaing is in it for personal power and not the financial stability of his country….

The tale of the disputed November election in Myanmar is a sad one. It also played out quite differently than the tale of the disputed November election here in the U.S. Both situations involved claims of election fraud, calls for an investigation of voting irregularities, segments of the country being unhappy campers at the results, and concerning incidents at the seat of government.

But unlike Myanmar, it was rioters, not tanks, showing up at the legislative seat of the U.S. Our government did not undergo a fundamental transition. Our democratic process remains intact; the change we experienced was the in name of the president and the political party in power.

Both countries are facing difficult times and have citizens with vastly different views as to how things should be run. As bad as Americans believe things are in our country right now, I’d still rather be in the U.S. than in Myanmar. And I have free access to the internet to tell you that.

Just WONDER-ing:

Had you heard there had been a coup in Myanmar? Does democracy have a chance of succeeding when the military is entrenched in the legislative process? Does the U.S. have a right to voice an opinion as to how another country should be governed? If there’s going to be an election dispute, would you rather be in Myanmar or the U.S.?

Ballot Box Blues

Thanksgiving is just two weeks away, and boy does every U.S. citizen have something for which to be thankful–midterm elections are over. Yahoo! Now we can all eat dinner in peace without robocalls intruding. We can go back to watching commercials for the “little blue pill” rather than being assaulted by some venom-spewing political ad informing us that the candidate’s opponent is the devil incarnate who, if elected, will send his constituents to hell in a hand basket. Yup. There’s nothing civil about civics these days.

Once upon a time I was a naïve political science major in college. I pored over large and expensive textbooks in an effort to learn how our government works and of course to get an A in the course. Degree in hand, I innocently headed off to work at the State Capitol Building in Atlanta to participate in the hallowed government process. What a rude awakening I had. What is supposed to happen and what in reality happens are two different things. I was extremely disillusioned.

Fast forward to the 2018 midterm elections. A few years (OK, a lot of years) have passed, and politics is even worse than when I graduated from college.  But like a moth to a flame, I am drawn to observe our government at work. I just cannot look away. And as nauseating as watching the process is, it is my duty as a citizen to stay informed and to participate in elections.

No one likes a negative Nelly. On a positive note, a great development since my college graduation is the implementation of early voting. Voters are given ample opportunity to vote–not simply a twelve hour period on one specific day. No longer can you avoid voting because you have a headache on Election Day or because it’s raining and you can’t seem to find your umbrella to get to the polls.

Early voting is quite the hit. In fact, approximately 36 million voters voted early in this election. That figure led to predictions that voter turnout would be much higher than usual for the midterm elections. A “high” voter turnout is a relative term. Edison Media Research predicted in advance of the election that 45% of the eligible voting population would vote. We can’t even get 50% of eligible voters to vote and that’s good news??? SMH

And just who is doing this voting? Are they educating themselves on the issues? Reviewing the ballot in advance of voting? Um, probably not for a great many voters. Why do I come to that conclusion? According to news reports, “donde votar” (“where to vote” for those of you who do not habla espanol) was the top trending search (3,000% increase in search frequency) the morning of election day. I’m assuming that people who don’t even know where they are supposed to vote haven’t checked in advance to see what they are voting about either.

The midterm elections are aptly named in my opinion. All the divisiveness, negativity, and hounding of voters this go round has been a test of my patience. I am not sure that the average voter even knows what a midterm election is. Certainly all of those reading this blog post are aware that it is a general election held in November every four years near the midpoint of a president’s four year term. Such an election is typically viewed as a referendum on a sitting president and his party’s performance.

Much was at stake in this week’s midterm elections. Thirty-six states, including Florida, were holding gubernatorial elections. The Senate’s slim Republican majority of 51-49 was in jeopardy from a slate of Congressional races. Would the balance shift from red to blue?

A bunch of red appeared early on Election Day. Poll workers at a voting site  in Detroit, Michigan were left red in the face and voters were red with anger when an untold number of early morning voters  had to be turned away. Why? Oops. Poll workers couldn’t seem to locate the voting machines. Whew! They were finally found in a locked closet on site, but the polling place opened an hour and a half late. Even poll workers apparently put things in a “safe” place and then can’t remember where that “safe” place was.

Once voters made it to the polls and machines were in place for them to vote, on what were they voting? In addition to electing governors and congressmen, in Florida there were  a hefty number of constitutional amendments to consider. Most of the time such amendments boggle my mind–not that I cannot understand them, but that I cannot fathom why the issue has to be handled by a constitutional amendment. A constitution, by definition, is a body of fundamental laws for governing. Not that I don’t care about the plight of poor greyhounds who are being raced, but can’t we just pass a law to outlaw the sport?

The slate of amendments offered in Florida was affected by a severe case of bundling. Sure, it’s November, and in a northern state you might need to bundle up against the cold. Here in Florida the Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC) thought bundling of issues would be the way to go. Um, no. Bundling occurs when two or more unrelated issues are grouped together in one amendment. For example, Amendment 9 asked voters to approve a ban on offshore drilling and on indoor vaping. And the connection between those two is…..what? No wonder some people don’t want to go vote when they are asked to consider propositions that doesn’t make any sense.

The only bright spot in the election coverage was the burning question of whether Meghan Markle could/would vote in the midterm elections. She’s a royal and in the process of seeking British citizenship, so that question is thought-provoking. But I’ll bet that voters are more interested in what Meghan would wear to the polls (or to mark her absentee ballot) and if her baby bump was visible when she did so than the political ramifications of her voting.

I vote that we put the midterm elections, their confusion, their divisiveness, and their nonsense behind us. Enjoy dinnertime without annoying political calls. The next election will be here before we know it so we can all sing the next stanza of “Ballot Box Blues.”

Just WONDER-ing: Did you vote in the midterm elections? Did you vote early? Did the ability to vote early make it more likely you voted? Did political ads seem more divisive and negative in this election than in past elections?