“You can change your friend but you cannot change your neighbours”, goes a saying. If we must comment, the saying has a fair dose of truth, even if it does not qualify to be called a universal truth and the same saying applies to neighbouring States/countries. Although there are very few corporate houses in Manipur which can make investment in Myanmar, and Manipur is, by no means, a geopolitical power by itself, people of Manipur have been closely following what are happening in Myanmar, specially the much-awaited transition towards democracy. This is understandable given the fact that Myanmar is the closest neighbour of Manipur to the East and they share a long history of mutual engagement, both peaceful and hostile. Political histories of Manipur and Myanmar in the post colonial period are rather interesting and they share some striking similarities as well as contrasting differences. Whereas Manipur became a part of India in the post colonial period, Myanmar, on the other hand, came under the rule of military junta. Although Manipur is claimed to be a part and parcel of India which is said to be the largest democracy in the world, the basic principles of democracy and democratic rights remain either elusive or twisted, if the infamous Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 and Irom Sharmila’s crusade against the same Act are any indication. Myanmar was being ruled by the military and its track record on human rights was far from being desirable if one goes by the western media. Till recently, Myanmar’s diplomatic relationship was confined only to the People’s Republic of China with all the western countries shying away from the military junta. There is no military rule in Manipur yet the military forces have sweeping powers over civil authority. In another word, democracy and democratic rights have been twisted and truncated in this troubled land called Manipur. Human rights violations by both State and non-State actors have been seldom reported in international media and the world hardly knows what is happening in the State. This is the tragedy of Manipur.
Nonetheless, it is a significant consolation that a phase of political transition has been already put in motion in neighbouring Myanmar. After nearly five decades of military rule, Myanmar held a national election in 2011 and a nominal civilian Government was introduced. Another general election was held on November 8, 2015 where the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by iconic Aung San Suu Kyi won landslide victory. Yet, the road ahead for the victorious NLD was not rosy as manifested by all the hassles surrounding the power transfer process. The country’s constitution drafted at the behest of the military bars Aung San Suu Kyi from taking over the post of President. Moreover, the constitution guarantees that unelected military representatives take up 25 per cent of the seats in the Hluttaw, (national-level bicameral legislature of Myanmar) and have a veto over constitutional change. In addition, the military is demanding the positions of chief minister in Rakhine, Shan and Kachin states and, crucially, Yangon, where the bulk of foreign investment is likely to concentrate as Myanmar’s economy grows at a rapid pace. This means the military leadership is not ready to relinquish power in some very key and decisive areas. Nonetheless Htin Kyaw was sworn in as the first civilian President of Myanmar. But we cannot help wondering whether democracy can flourish in the neighbouring country. Though the new NLD Government began its term from April 1, 2016, it is still premature to tell how far they can uphold democratic principles and ensure democratic rights to citizens of Myanmar. With the military occupying 25 per cent seats of the country’s parliament, we are afraid that the neighbouring country’s political transition to democracy looks dubious. We sincerely hope we are proved wrong at the end.