Myanmar Elections Bring Hope for Democracy in Southeast Asia

by Tim Giang

Countries in Southeast Asia have been riddled with oppressive militaristic governments but are slowly emerging on the arduous journey to democracy. One of the most recent countries to pursue this journey was Myanmar. Myanmar had their first elections since 1990 and elected Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy. After spending an extended time under a highly publicized house arrest drawing attention to Myanmar’s situation, Aung San Suu Kyi now works to create a peaceful, democratic nation while establishing power over the military generals who historically pose a threat to true democracy in Myanmar. Suu Kyi also faces the growing of the Rohingyas, a persecuted Muslim minority, whose situation is a potential obstacle to the promotion of true equality and democracy in the country.[1]

The success in Myanmar follows waves of democratic revolution that recently swept over Southeast Asia. After democratic protesting the past few years, Thailand’s military government plans to hold elections in 2017 but already fears election tampering. Cambodia’s most recent elections in 2013 featured the democratic party almost winning a majority in parliament despite voter fraud and election rigging by the incumbent leader Hun Sen. While Hun Sen said this would be his last term, he recently stated he wanted to continue his reign in 2018 and also tried to arrest opposition leader Sam Raingsy forcing him to seek asylum in South Korea.[2]

While progress moves slowly in Thailand and Cambodia, there are several countries that continue to suffer. Vietnam recently restricted freedom of speech to reporters and journalists and Laos tightened their control while continuing to evade questions about the opposition leader’s disappearance in 2012.[3] One of the smaller nations in Southeast Asia, Brunei, started resembling a dictatorship in 2015. Hassanal Bolkiah now controls the majority of the departments for the state and has enacted Sharia Law.[4] While many countries still face many problems going forward to achieve a purer form of democracy modeled by other Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore, countries can look at Myanmar and have hope for a better future.


[1] “A New Era: Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s opposition leader, has won a great victory. Now she must change the country,” The Economist (November 2015): Accessed January 12, 2016.

[2] Joshua Kurlantzick, “The Year in Democracy in Southeast Asia. Except for Myanmar, the report card is decidedly mixed.” The Diplomat, (December 11, 2015): Accessed January 16, 2016.

[3] Kurlantzick, “The Year in Democracy in Southeast Asia.”

[4] Barney Henderson, “Sultan of Brunei bans Christmas ‘because it could damage faith of Muslims,’” The Telegraph, (December 22, 2015): Acessed January 16, 2016.

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