Democratic fever leaves Myanmar sweating

By Ding Gang Source:Global Times Published: 2012-7-4 20:15:03

columnist Ding Gang
columnist Ding Gang

The BBC recently did a report on how Chinese netizens viewed Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Myanmar's National League for Democracy (NLD). It claimed in the report that Suu Kyi has become a democratic idol of some Chinese netizens, unnerving the Chinese government.

The BBC cited my column on Global Times on June 20 titled "Democracy no panacea for Myanmar's woes" to support its view that the Chinese government was nervous. But this is incorrect.

My concern is not whether Suu Kyi will become an idol of Chinese netizens. Does she really have such an influence?

How many Chinese know Suu Kyi's name? I don't know, but currently, I do hope Chinese pay more attention to Myanmar and Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi's status as a democratic idol is not where the problem lies, but whether Myanmar's democratic progress could promote orderly development. As to this question, Myanmar should focus more on China, especially China's experiences of reform and opening-up.

Suu Kyi herself is sober on this. She and the opposition party NLD finally made the pledge as members of the parliament despite dissatisfaction with the terms of the oath, which shows they have realized the necessity of compromise for democracy.

Democracy cannot be achieved at one go. But this is not recognized by some people. As long as they hear that Chinese advocate a moderate and gradual path to democracy, they will react strongly.

This is what I call "democracy fever." Once people become zealous for democracy, it becomes something untouchable and sacred.

Should this be called democratic fundamentalism? Such a fever will shield society from a comprehensive understanding on democracy.

In countries like Myanmar, the public has been strongly longing for democracy due to their sufferings. They are easily affected by the West. At such a critical moment, they should understand the importance of order.

Myanmar has 10 ethnic groups, over 100 language and dialects and also some groups that still haven't been officially recognized like the Rohingya people. Once order is lost, what will it mean?

It's a great political puzzle how to achieve a balance between democratic progress and order. It's still hard to say whether Myanmese have the ability to solve the puzzle.

I use order rather than rule of law. I am not neglecting the rule of law. But history tells us that rule of law is formed by a process.

Appropriate democratic laws have to be made, and the enforcers and the public have to learn to recognize and comply with the law.

All these should be achieved in a certain order. Chaos could only force the rule of law backward.

ASEAN was against imposing sanctions on Myanmar, and one of the reasons was the worry that Myanmar could be forced into chaos. This would also be a disaster for the neighboring countries. More than one official from ASEAN have said that if the situation of Myanmar becomes a sharp confrontation, the whole of Southeast Asia would fall into chaos.

Whether Myanmar could become a democratic country depends on whether it has mature conditions for democracy. In a country with diverse ethnic groups and cultures, this will be a slow process and patience may be more important.

Former US national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski once said, "In a lot of countries, the choice is not authoritarianism versus democracy. It is stable development with control from the top-down versus chaotic freedom that's economically totally disruptive. And I'm not sure it's such a good choice. Look at Egypt and its population, and the Muslim Brotherhood. If Egypt were to plunge headlong right now into American-style democracy, would it be politically stable? Would it be stable economically?"

I worry that if some Myanmese classify China as an undemocratic country and totally close the door of learning lessons from their close neighbor, this will not mean good things in store for Myanmar.

The author is a senior editor with the People's Daily. He is now stationed in Bangkok.


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