Myanmar power beckons for Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party
It is Aung San Suu Kyi’s big moment on Sunday, as Myanmar holds its first contested elections since 1960, or at least the first where the result has a good chance of being observed by the country’s powerful military. She and her National League for Democracy swept an election held in 1990, but the generals ignored this inconvenient result and kept her in house arrest for most of the following 20 years.
From the euphoria around her campaign, the NLD is likely to do as well as it did in the parliamentary byelections of 2012, in which Suu Kyi won a seat after ending her boycott of the stage-managed transfer of power to an elected government by the army two years earlier.
The national parliament and representatives of regional legislatures elect the president, an executive position currently held by former general Thein Sein. But under the military-written constitution, anyone who is married to a foreigner or has foreign children is barred, a provision aimed at Suu Kyi, whose late husband was British, as are her two sons. With the military allotted 25 per cent of the parliament, and constitutional amendments requiring a vote of 75 per cent of members, this is unlikely to change soon.
So if the NLD attains a majority in the parliament, Suu Kyi will perforce be the power behind the throne. The present speaker, former general Shwe Mann, who was kicked out of the military-bureaucratic political vehicle, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, for being too friendly to her, is a possible compromise candidate for president, with Suu Kyi taking over as speaker of the lower house.
The campaign has been reasonably peaceful. However, the number of political prisoners is rebounding, having gone up from a recent low of 29 in early 2014 to about three times that number, with 466 other activists awaiting trial, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an NGO in Myanmar. The United Nations rapporteur Yanghee Lee said 60 candidates had been barred from running, while 760,000 residents who previously held ID cards enabling them to vote have been disenfranchised − most of them from the Rohingya minority, widely regarded as aliens because of their Bengali ancestry and Muslim religion.
History of a kind in Singapore today, with the first meeting of the leaders of mainland China and the holdout island of Taiwan since the Communist civil war victory in 1949.
China’s president and Communist Party chief Xi Jinping will meet Taiwan president and head of the island’s ruling Kuomintang (KMT, Chinese Nationalist Party) Ma Ying-jeou, according to an announcement by Ma’s office later confirmed by Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office.
It seems to be an intervention in Taiwan’s campaigning for the presidential election to be held on January 16, in which the KMT is widely expected to lose despite a last-minute switch of candidates. Ma comes to the end of his two permitted four-year terms, and the KMT candidate Eric Chu is polling well behind Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party.
Beijing has long preferred its old enemy the KMT to be in charge of Taiwan, because under the sway of mainland exiles and their descendants the KMT clings to the policy that Taiwan belongs to “One China”, while the DPP tends to think Taiwan’s effective independence will one day be recognised.
Both sides are playing down any idea that the meeting will bring any agreements. Xi is no doubt hoping to project a friendly image of Beijing ahead of the election. But it’s unclear if this will help Chu and the KMT. Ma is unpopular because of his policies opening Taiwan to Chinese investment and tourism. Students occupied the legislature in Taipei for close to a month last year to force amendment of an economic pact with the mainland.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s tactic of ramping up a domestic civil war paid off in last Sunday’s election, with his Justice and Development Party (AKP) winning back the parliamentary majority it lost in elections in June.
The nine percentage point swing came as a result of stirring up conflict with the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), with which Erdoğan had previously achieved a truce to worldwide praise. The ploy drew Turkish nationalist voters away from right-wing parties, while some Kurds pulled back from the Kurdish-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) after a state media campaign portraying it as a front for the PKK.
The new majority of 317 seats in the 550-seat parliament is short of the 330 “super majority” that the AKP would need to amend the constitution and give Erdoğan his wish to transfer executive powers to his official ceremonial office. But his party is hopeful of attracting enough votes to make this possible.
The result is more bad news for the Kurds, both local and PKK volunteers from Turkey, who are the most effective opponents of Daesh across in Syria and Iraq. On Monday the Turkish military started a new series of air strikes against PKK fighters in both countries.
The US Navy’s recent sail-past of China’s new islands in the South China Sea has Canberra in a tizz about whether to join in what will be a regular assertion of freedom-of-navigation rights. The unfortunate coincidence of Australian frigates conducting live-fire exercises with Chinese warships about the same time surely calls for balance.
But the Chinese maritime claims have just suffered a more telling blow, with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruling on October 29 that it had jurisdiction to hear a case filed by the Philippines that reefs and shoals on which China’s been building the islands were not substantial enough features for territorial claims and 12-nautical-mile limits.
The court is holding judgement on its jurisdiction on certain other contentions by Manila, but it will now proceed to substantive hearings on the case it has accepted. China will no doubt continue to boycott the case, but its argument the court has no jurisdiction is much thinner.
In February 2000, then Chinese Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin announced his “important thought” of the “Three Represents” in which the party should also include “advanced social productive forces”. This invited China’s new capitalist class into party membership, which now stands at about 88 million.
Now under Xi Jinping, the party is crimping the lifestyle of Chinese plutocrats. Not only is there a crackdown on gambling in Macau, the Central Committee published an order last month banning party members from playing golf, along with excessive banqueting and “improper sexual relationships”. From Burmese generals to Indonesian crony-capitalists, golf has been the hallmark of success in Asia. It’s unlikely Chinese players will give up the game, any more than their premium liquor and mistresses. So expect a new rush of Chinese guys in dorky check trousers to golf links elsewhere, and investment to cater for them.
The experience of the exclusive Wentworth Club in the English county of Surrey shows what can result. After it was bought by Chinese-Thai tycoon Chanchai Ruayrungruang – also known as Yan Bin and estimated as China’s 10th richest person with assets of $US10.2 billion – its 4000 members have been hit with a demand to pay £100,000 for a debenture share or lose their membership, while annual fees will double to £16,000.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 7, 2015 as "Power beckons for Suu Kyi’s NLD party ". Subscribe here.