On November 7, parties aligned with Burma’s military junta will likely claim victory in a bogus election. Chances are, the United States and Western Europe will reject the results. Meanwhile, China and much of the ASEAN countries will use the election as a pretext to deepen their engagement.

So will the election portend more misery for the long suffering Burmese people?  Maybe. But maybe not.   Lex Rieffel of the Brookings Institution sketches out a potential scenario in which the elections might just set into motion a series of events that would lead to a brighter future for Burma:

It is hard to imagine any election outcome that would make life worse than it already is for most people in Myanmar, but several factors could make their lives better. One is that the impact of deeper engagement with Myanmar’s Asian neighbors is likely to greatly outweigh the impact of tighter sanctions by the United States and other faraway countries. A second factor is that the new government—required by the constitution to take office within 90 days of the elections—may decide that its shelf life depends on achieving some “performance legitimacy.” Such legitimacy could come most easily from a series of small, “piecemeal” policy changes that expand the scope for free enterprise and personal advancement across the country.

One reason to believe the new Myanmar government may move in this direction is that the regime has already taken a number of similar initiatives during the past year, including the privatization of a wide range of government enterprises and properties. Another reason is that Myanmar’s Asian neighbors are likely to attach more importance to economic progress in Myanmar than to political progress. After all, their own modern histories invariably began with economic liberalization not with political liberalization. Good governance during the early stages of their modernization has been more closely linked to achieving high rates of economic growth than to having a democratically elected governments.

Obviously, there are a number of contingencies that need to happen for this outcome to transpire.   But I’m a glass-is-half-full sort of person and this does not seem to be completely out of the range of plausibility.    Am I missing something?

  • Mark Farmaner

    This argument is fails to understand the nature of the dictatorship in Burma. Please read: http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk/index.php/news-and-reports/burma-briefing/title/burmas-fake-election

  • Mac McClelland

    While that scenario sounds plausible as a total hypothetical, I do think there’s some crucial context missing, yeah. Like the fact that Burma is already very deeply engaged with some of its ASEAN neighbors. Burma has more foreign investment now than it’s ever had in its history. There HAS been a lot of economic progress and prosperity, but the money goes to military men (and military supplies) and military cronies. As did those those newly privatized businesses; many viewed the junta’s decision to sell government companies to its own members and friends as a way of maintaining control over the companies after the elections. In any case, a growing Burmese economy run by an elite group of robber barons does not equal an enhanced standard of living for the people of Burma – as it never has, and as it wouldn’t in most any country.

  • Editilla~New Orleans Ladder

    Yes you are missing a lot, Mr glass-half-full.
    For one thing, the Burmese don’t even have a glass.
    For another you can’t get past allowing these rapist thugs to continue naming the country Myanmar. You have already given in and sold Burma up the river if you think a think-tank like Brookings is working for the people of Burma –not exactly their wealthy stakeholders.
    Get your head out of your faux-progressive butt and go to Burma, or at least to the border in Thailand. Don’t take the tourist-tour. Stop trying to intellectualize this rape of human rights.
    At least read Mac McClelland’s book “For Us Surrender Is Out Of The Question” http://mac-mcclelland.com/
    But please stop appeasing these or any viscous dictators, they will eat you for breakfast with fave beans and a glass of wine half full.

    Editilla~New Orleans Ladder

  • lkl

    You are giving the murderers and rapist too much benefit of doubt and your article has got too much ‘might’, ‘may’ ,’could’ in it.

    Our willingness to indulge in the junta’s game is the reason why the junta continues to abuse its own people. I don’t think we should insult the Burmese people by our wishful thinking. No offence intended but I’m rather enraged by the world’s handling of Burma.