Vietnam Activists Welcome Myanmar Elections, Yearn For Free Polls

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Supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy gather outside the party's headquarters in Yangon, Myanmar, Nov. 9, 2015.
Supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy gather outside the party's headquarters in Yangon, Myanmar, Nov. 9, 2015.

Activists in Vietnam on Tuesday welcomed Myanmar’s historic general election held over the weekend and what early results suggest will be a landslide victory by the country’s opposition party, but expressed frustration with a lack of democratic reform in their one-party communist nation.

Myanmar’s election on Sunday took place without any major incident and was viewed by observers to be the first free polls in the nation since Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party swept the vote in 1990, though the results were ignored by the then-ruling military regime.

As results trickle in from across Myanmar, the country’s Union Election Commission (UEC) said Tuesday that of the 121 reported seats in parliament, the NLD had won 107, with the remainder divided between the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and a handful of ethnic parties.

The early reports suggest the popular NLD crushed the military-backed ruling party, which conceded defeat a day earlier and has indicated it will hand over power if an opposition victory is confirmed.

Activists in Vietnam on Tuesday marveled at the pace of democratic reform in Myanmar, where President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government took power from the former junta less than four years ago following 2010 elections the NLD boycotted amid concerns they were neither free nor fair.

Nguyen Van Dai, a lawyer in Hanoi who had previously been imprisoned for his work on political cases, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service he cried tears of joy when he heard regional neighbor and fellow Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member Myanmar had held a free election that the opposition was likely to win.

“Even though they are less developed than Vietnam and endured a military regime for more than half a century, they fought with perseverance and bravery and now they have reaped the rewards,” he said.

Dai said that the online response to the election by the public in Vietnam has been largely positive, and expressed surprise that official media in the country—where any challenge to the ruling Communist Party is not tolerated—had extensively covered the polls.

“This shows that not only activists, but also the state media, care about this issue,” he said.

Dai said the election has had a “psychological effect” on the people of Vietnam, causing them to wonder why “the people of Myanmar can do this, but not the people of Vietnam?”

“The question will definitely inspire patriotism among people [in Vietnam] and their willingness to fight for democracy,” he said.

“I expect civil societies in Vietnam will learn lessons from Myanmar’s election to help build the strength for our democracy movement, and I believe that one day—not far from now—Vietnam will hold a free election like Myanmar’s.”

China influence

Vietnam Women for Human Rights activist Huynh Thuc Vy also welcomed the polls, but was more conservative with a timetable for a similar democratic process occurring in her country.

“I hesitate to give a projection [for a free election in Vietnam] because I think it will take time and requires a lot of effort from activists and the public at large,” she told RFA.

“Myanmar’s military is not like the socialists of Vietnam—they are no longer under the influence of China, while [the leadership of] Vietnam is.”

One party communist China remains Vietnam’s biggest political ally and trading partner, despite the two neighbors having fought a brief border war in 1979 and a recent rise in tensions over territorial rights in the South China Sea.

Tuong Lai, the former director of the Vietnam Institute of Sociology, echoed Vy’s concerns over China’s influence on Vietnam’s political landscape.

Recent efforts by the government of Myanmar to quell clashes with armed ethnic groups along its shared border with China mean that “Thein Sein has escaped Beijing’s influence,” Lai said.

“If they weren’t able to push the pressure aside … Thein Sein would not have done what he did,” he added.

“Among Vietnam’s communist leaders, I know many people feel that it is miserable to follow China … but they are not brave enough [to abandon Beijing] because they are still afraid of [Chinese President] Xi Jinping.”

But Lai said that the people of Vietnam are growing increasingly frustrated with the way their government is running the country and will eventually force political reform if the leadership continues to drag its heels.

“We question whether Vietnam could ever have someone like Aung San Suu Kyi [who can lead us toward democracy], but I see her in all of Vietnam’s 90 million people—in their anger at the despotic regime which let our country down and made it one of the most obsolete in the region,” he said.

“Looking at Myanmar now—the people of Vietnam are inspired by the examples set by Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi and will act on this frustration … Nothing can change that.”

Reported by Hoang Dung and Mac Lam for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.





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