Myanmar: Elections, Politics, And Rohingya Conflict

Myanmar: Elections, Politics, And Rohingya Conflict

After Bihar and US elections, let us look at elections in India’s neighbour Myanmar, the profile of its ‘state counselor’, Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as the Rohingya conflict in the region.

Crux of the Matter

Myanmar Election
In the 2nd election in Myanmar’s history, the National League for Democracy (NLD) of Aung San Suu Kyi won. It had also won the 2015 elections. Elections were held on 161 seats out of 217 in the Upper house, and 315 seats out of 425 in the Lower House.

“Flawed” Elections

  • Voting in several conflict-areas was postponed due to “security” reasons.
  • Disenfranchisement (removal of voting rights) of 1.5 million people of mostly ethnic minorities occurred in the elections. The list includes 600,000 Rohingyas who are also banned from contesting elections as per Human Rights Watch.
  • Journalists were prevented from reporting, as they were labelled “non-essential workers” under Covid restrictions.
  • Campaign speeches of several candidates were censored on state-run media.
  • Several critics and opposition candidates arrested for sedition.
  • Human Rights Watch labelled the elections “fundamentally flawed”. The opposition called the elections unfair and demanded re-elections

Who Is Suu Kyi?


  • Suu Kyi is the ‘State Counselor’ of Myanmar.
  • She is the daughter of freedom fighter Aung San, who was assassinated just before Myanmar gained independence from Britain in 1948.
  • Suu Kyi was awarded Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 when under house arrest for demanding democracy in the then military-ruled nation.


  • Suu Kyi was detained for almost 15 years between 1989 and 2010.
  • 1990: Her National League for Democracy (NLD) party won a landslide victory in General elections, but the elections were rejected by the military.

Rise To Power

  • Suu Kyi was released in 2010 after elections, where the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won. The opposition dismissed the elections as bogus.
  • NLD won 43 out of 45 seats in the 2012 by-elections, and Suu Kyi became the Leader of Opposition.
  • 2015: First major elections in the country were won by the NLD of Suu Kyi.

The Constitution of Myanmar designed by the military has the following condition for President candidate:

He himself, one of the parents, the spouse, one of the legitimate children or their spouses [should] not owe allegiance to a foreign power

Suu Kyi is ineligible as both her sons are British citizens. Therefore, the ‘State Counselor’ title was formed in 2016 reportedly as a loophole. In practice, Suu Kyi is reportedly more powerful than the President and has been called the “de facto leader”.

Military controls 25% of seats in both the Houses. It also controls essential ministries and has veto powers for “constitutional issues”. Removal of the military from politics is a key part of NLD’s manifesto.

Suu Kyi’s reputation has declined from her Nobel Peace moment due to her treatment of Rohingyas and the alleged crackdown on journalists and dissenters.

Rohingya Conflict
Rohingya is an ethnic group (majority Muslim) mainly situated in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. Myanmar Government recognizes Rohingya as Bangladeshi migrants, not as Myanmar citizens.

  • Conditions of Rohingya in Rakhine state have been described as similar to “prison camps”.
  • 2017: 2 Reuters journalists were arrested for covering the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine. They were released in May 2019 after spending more than 500 days in prison.
  • Tension between Rohingyas and the Buddhist majority has existed since long, and started rising in 2010s.

Migration And Genocide

  • 2016: Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) claimed responsibility for attacks on 30 police posts and 1 army base.
  • 730,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh after the 2017 military crackdown allegedly aided by Buddhist groups.
  • United Nations claimed the crackdown had “hallmarks of genocide”.
  • Rohingya refugees allege torture, rape, and mass killings by the army, which has been denied by Suu Kyi.

India And Rohingya

  • Currently, ~40,000 Rohingyas refugees are in India.
  • August 2017: Controversy as Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) killed 99 Hindu citizens in Rakhine (reported by Amnesty International). ARSA is reportedly connected with Pakistani extremist groups.
  • As per UNHRC data from 2017, 16,500 Rohingyas had settled in India as refugees – of which 80% had settled in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. The major settlements in the state were in Doda and Samba sectors of Jammu region and in Ladakh.

Implication Of CAA

  • Indian Government has labelled Rohingyas “illegal immigrants” and deported several of them back, which was criticized by the United Nations.
  • CAA-NRC of 2019 has been cited as a threat to Rohingyas, with deportation expected to be sped up. Several cases of Rohingyas allegedly converting to Christianity for Indian citizenship have been reported.

2 major ideas regarding Rohingyas in India

  • ‘Threat’ due to possible connection with ARSA.
  • Refugees requiring aid without being generalized with ARSA.
  • Myanmar was known as Burma until 1989 when the military junta renamed the country Myanmar. The capital, Rangoon, became Yangon. The United States officially still calls the country Burma.
  • The previous capital city, Yangon (formerly Rangoon), is home to the gilded Shwedagon Paya. It is believed to enshrine eight hairs of Gautama Buddha and is one of Buddhism’s most sacred sites.
  • The writer George Orwell lived in Burma from 1922 to 1927 and served in the Indian Imperial Police. He would later recount his experiences and reactions to imperial rule in his novel Burmese Days and in two autobiographical shorts, Shooting an Elephant and A Hanging.
  • Myanmar is one of only three countries not to adopt the metric system of measurement. Liberia and the US are the other two that have not adopted the International System of Units (SI, or metric system) as their official system of weights and measures.