The percentage of the vote the NLD has scored in the bye-elections on April 1st, over 80%, is more or less the same as the land-slide victory of the NLD in the May 1990 elections.  That election victory was stolen by the military and the Burmese people were denied their democracy and representative government for the next 22 years.   In all those years, with incredible courage, conviction and commitment, Aung San Suu Kyi kept the fire of democracy burning.  Despite extraordinary hardships and personal tragedy, she did not waver, always knowing that history was at her side.  Although she has not been the only Burmese democracy leader suffering under the oppression of the Burmese generals, she has all along been the symbol as the ‘mother of the nation’.

Her unbreakable determination and persuasive skills, made the generals finally realize, that there is no way out of a stagnant economy and impoverished population, without bringing the Lady and her followers into governing Burma.  The bye-elections were a first, peaceful step to that effect.  Both sides of the political divide, the military government and the opposition NLD, used these elections to test the reliability of their opponents.   Although the organization of the elections fell short of the standard required, the open atmosphere and wide participation of the population turned this test into a celebration of a democratic opening.

The seats at stake in the bye-election represent only 10% of the military dominated parliament, but with Aung San Suu Kyi’s entry into parliament, significant nevertheless.  Despair under dictatorship has been replaced with hope a transition to democracy offers.

The remarkable feature of the new political dynamics in Burma is that change is taking place so rapidly.  In many ways it reminds me of the sudden political opening of the apartheid regime in 1989 and the subsequent release of Nelson Mandela.  Very few people in the ANC and the United Democratic Front (UDF) saw this political earthquake coming.   For the first two years, people kept asking the question:  ‘’is this opening irreversible or a trap by the apartheid regime?”  The same questions are asked about the intentions of the Burmese generals.  Are they genuinely willing to transfer power to a democratically elected government in the near future in Burma or are they trying to co-opt the NLD and other democratic parties into government?

We should take the cue from Aung San Suu Kyi.  She is optimistic but remains guarded as long as no new democratic constitution has been agreed and well organized free and fair election for a new parliament and government have been conducted.  The transition in South Africa lasted four years, from 1990 till the first democratic elections in April 1994.  That transition period proved valuable to ensure a wide buy-in into the new dispensation of all political forces in South Africa.  It ensured the stability for a steady economic growth since.

The stakes in Burma should not be underestimated.  It is a country with a very diverse population of which a number of ethnic groups have been engaged in fighting the central government for the past decades.    The oppression of the past 24 years has fragmented society while creating many obstacles to form unified positions about a future democratic Burma.   Rather than rushing in with solutions from the outside world, Aung San Suu Kyi and her democratic supporters will need the time and resources to shape the Burmese transition process and use the new won political space to engage in a dialogue with all Burmese peoples and their representatives in building a new peaceful and prosperous democratic Burma.

Not long ago, Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel personified that the human spirit can overcome the dark forces of entrenched dictatorship.  Today, it is Aung San Suu Kyi and her Burmese democracy activists, who demonstrate that democracy is a universal aspiration that cann’t be suppressed indefinitely.   Although the road to democracy will take time, let us hope that Aung San Suu Kyi will live the day that Burmese will live in the democracy which they were denied by the military since that memorable vote in May 1990.