Monday, March 21, 2016

Why Suu Kyi is no Sonia Gandhi

Burmese leader Aun Sung Suu Kyi has completed a process that began decades ago, a process that would have been considered impossible just a few years ago. The newly-elected Parliament, in which about 77% of the 75% elected seats (25% are reserved for the military) are held by her party, elected the country's first civilian president in half a century... and it wasn't her, because a clause in the new Constitution that was basically meant to exclude her, disqualifies her. Negotiations with the military-backed representatives to ease that clause, or amend it, have met with stiff resistance. Therefore, unable to effect any change to the legal framework, she has simply decided to follow it in word but not in spirit. Reuters described this as similar to the arrangement between Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi.

That metaphor is wrong. In both cases, the winner was supposed to take over power, and it was a fair (well, almost fair in Burma) context. There should be no second thoughts on that. But constitutional provisions - right or wrong - came in the way. However, the fact remains that in the semi-feudal setup of political parties in the region (and Burma has a long, shared history with India) does not allow anyone but the head to pull the strings. Therefore, in any case, if anyone but the head of the party holds executive office, they remain subservient to the head. This is not offered as an opinion of whether it is right or wrong, it is a simple fact. Sonia Gandhi tried to have it both ways - she made a huge drama of 'sacrificing' the PM's chair, while setting up a parallel super-cabinet in the form of the NAC. Eventually, her son Rahul Gandhi became No. 2 in the country, ahead of the PM himself. It was destruction of democracy by stealth, for in her capacity as the true head of the government, she was not accountable to anyone.

It is different with Suu Kyi. In her case, she is not looking to be hypocritical, or to enrich herself and her family. She is saying very frankly and openly that the new president is her puppet, and she will pull the strings. This made a BBC interviewer gawk, but the fact is that this is how it works in the region. People voted for the NLD because they wanted Suu Kyi to make decisions for the country. It would be wrong to have it any other way. Indeed, a direct subversion of a military-created constitution may be considered a solemn duty.

And that is the difference between Aung San Suu Kyi and Sonia Gandhi. The former is undermining a military-imposed Constitution. The latter undermined a democratically drafted one. 

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