Monday, April 2, 2012

Freedom From Fear: Burma's Baby Step Towards Democracy

I got misty-eyed looking at pictures of Burmese people waiting in lines to cast their votes on Sunday. Their faces and eyes conveyed a sense of hope for something better. To be in those lines, they had already managed to overcome their fear, fear of once again having their voices and aspirations squashed by a brutal and paranoid military regime, which has lorded over them since 1962.

Myanmar villagers walking to polling stations on Sunday, April 1, 2012.
(Photo: Altaf Qadri/AP)

As the outspoken Burmese democracy activist Maung Zarni has noted, it was a "psycho-social" victory for the people of Burma, a resource-rich Southeast Asian nation of 60 million.

In America the term democracy is often thrown around like a chess piece in a match between two political parties that essentially vie for the largess and approval from the ruling class. For the people of Burma, it’s the fundamental and existential necessity of life. Ordinary people, whether Burmese or Vietnamese or Americans, just want to have a dignified life, to be left alone to earn a living in order to feed and clothe their families and, if possible, a nominal amount of freedom to express their hopes and fulfill their aspirations. They want to be able to vent their grievances without fear of being detained, tortured or disappeared.

I Love Democracy. Burma's By-Election, Sunday, April 1, 2012
(Photo: European Press Photo/DailyMailUK)
So to know that something akin to a "free and fair" election did actually take place in Burma, a country that not long ago was considered as closed as that of North Korea, makes one feel hopeful about the world. Whether it's long-lasting remains to be seen and regardless of the behind-the-scene machinations, the people of Burma have set an example for their Asian neighbors, especially Vietnamese and Chinese.

I hope the world media won’t just take up and leave right after election for it was a very wobbly baby-step and the people of Burma, now more than ever, need the world’s help in holding the military regime accountable while they chart the next course of adventure called democracy.

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