PC:The Myanmar Times

Ambassador Gautam Mukhopadhaya on Tuesday said Myanmar should return to constitutional democracy because people had voted for it.

Mukhopadhaya, who served as India’s ambassador to Myanmar from 2013 to 2016, told Northeast Now in an interview that international ‘pressure’ can be exercised in subtle way, and a ‘crude’ pressure is likely to be counter-productive.

The Army has justified the coup under the 2008 Constitution, and the provocation was an electoral dispute, not a national ‘emergency’, he said.

“Real democracies have been the exception rather than the norm in Southeast Asia,” Mukhopadhaya, said.

The retired diplomat, who is an expert on Myanmar, said authoritarian rule, whether military, single party, monarchical, populist, hybrid or quasi-democratic, have always been powerful in East and South Asia, and militaries have been powerful behind the scenes in most countries.

“Some countries like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Indonesia have evolved into more stable democracies over time,” he said.

Mukhopadhaya said the 2015 elections are seen as a peaceful triumph of democracy over military dictatorship in Myanmar.

But Myanmar under Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was more of a contest between people power and coercive power than a true transition to democracy though the holding of multi-party elections does mark serious advance that will be difficult to reverse for long, he said.

“That is why the declaration of emergency is couched in a return to democracy after a year. This is an ongoing contest. We cannot say one side has lost or won for long,” Mukhopadhaya, who is now a senior visiting fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, said.

The retired diplomat said the coup may destroy unity among ethnic groups and the mainstream Burmese leading the country to an imminent division.

“This is a danger. Myanmar’s ethnic communities can be united only under a more federal, democratic dispensation. Military rule and methods are likely to aggravate Centre-Ethnic ties,” Mukhopadhaya, said.

He said it would be better to watch the reactions and what the military does over the next few months. The military also backed the peace process under the USDP and the more recent dialogue over elections in Rakhine state.

Mukhopadhaya, who also served as India’s ambassadors to Syria and Afghanistan, said it is expected that the military rule shall create an iron curtain of in-transparency, opacity and arbitrary human rights violation.

“Military rule is the anti-thesis of democratic rule which is based on the will of the people, not the priorities of the military or security considerations,” he said.

Ambassador Mukhopadhaya said the military rule in Myanmar shall create threats to geopolitical stability, security and bilateral relations in the sub-region, including with India.

“It will impact widely. After its own brush with illiberal, right wing tendencies, the US has already taken a strong position on the restoration of democracy. So have other western democracies,” he said.

This may throw Myanmar into an authoritarian camp, especially, China, Mukhopadhaya said, adding that it will have repercussions in Bangladesh and divide political opinion in India.

“But most of all, we have to see how the Myanmar people respond. That will shape a lot of reactions,” he said.

Speaking on the arbitrary detention of all political activists, Ambassador Mukhopadhaya said freedom cannot be suppressed forever.

“It is unlikely that military rule can deliver on the needs of the people of Myanmar. The Army has called the emergency a temporary measure. It would be best to see what the Tatmadaw does next,” he said.

Raymond Kharmujai

Raymond Kharmujai is a Shillong based journalist. He can be reached at rrkharmujai@gmail.com