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‘Code of good conduct’ Swiss help Myanmar with democratic guidelines

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was personally involved in the Swiss-supervised initiative, helping check the Burmese and English translations

(swissinfo.ch)

Swiss diplomats have been helping Myanmar draw up a democratic code of good conduct for the southeast nation’s 73 political parties. This comes as the country gears up for a historic election in November, the first free vote in 25 years. 

The Swiss foreign ministry confirmed on Thursday that Switzerland’s ambassador to Myanmar, Christoph Burgener, and officials from the main political parties will sign an official charter in Rangoon on Friday relating to the democratic code of good conduct that Switzerland helped draft. 

The 73 political parties that have benefited from this Swiss coaching include the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which consists of a number of the country's high-profile businessman and former members of the military, and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD). The NLD is expected to do well in November’s parliamentary election, which will be the first free and fair vote in Myanmar in 25 years. 

Suu Kyi remains barred from holding the president's office by the 2008 military-drafted constitution, which does not allow for individuals with children who are foreign citizens to become president. Her two sons are British. 

She was herself personally involved in the Swiss-supervised initiative. 

“A the end of the process she re-read and compared the Burmese and English language versions to see if there were any differences, and really checked word for word that the two texts were the same,” Tatiana Monney, a Swiss foreign ministry election and democracy official, told Swiss public radio, RTS. 

Military retains veto

On June 25, a move to amend Myanmar’s constitution to remove the military’s legislative veto on key decisions fell short of the required 75% support in parliament, preserving the armed forces’ powerful political stake. 

The failure to trim the share of house votes needed to amend the constitution to 70% was no surprise given that unelected members of the military, which ruled Myanmar for half a century until 2011, hold a quarter of the seats. 

Another vote on a clause that effectively bars Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president also fell short of the support needed. Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy (NLD) won the last free election by a landslide in 1990 – a result ignored by the junta – cannot become president because her two children are British citizens, as was her late husband. 

The NLD suffered persecution under the former junta and says the military’s ability to shoot down changes to the constitution puts a limit on democratic reforms in Myanmar, where a general election is expected in November. Critics see it as an enshrined safeguard to protect the armed forces sizeable economic and political interests.

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Myanmar’s electoral commission contacted Switzerland for help with the drafting of the document, which took six months. 

“They managed to gain each other’s trust. There was wide consensus. They have learned a great deal in the search for compromise and tactics. They have also learned the art of politics,” said Monney, adding that the success of the discussions was essentially down to the Myanmar political groups. 

"Not exporting Swiss model"

“It’s not about exporting the Swiss model. We simply propose what may suit a given context. There is no miracle recipe,” she said. “This Swiss contribution helps us gain access to the election candidates and leaders of tomorrow…it’s also a contribution to the stability and economic exchanges of an actor which will exert a role in the region.” 

Suu Kyi told members of the NLD at a two-day party conference in Yangon on June 20 that instability could threaten the voting process. 

"Stability is very important for the election period," she said. "Instability should not be the reason to stray from the way the country is going. 

She did not outline any specific source of instability but religious tensions simmered in Myanmar for almost 50 years of military rule, before boiling over in 2012, just a year after a semi-civilian government took power. 

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in April the violent combustion of Buddhist nationalism and anti-Muslim sentiment "could happen again in the politically charged context of an election". 

The NLD won Myanmar's last real election in 1990 by a landslide, but the military nullified the result. The party boycotted the 2010 poll, widely regarded as rigged. Suu Kyi and 42 other members of the NLD were elected to parliament in by-elections held in 2012.

swissinfo.ch with agencies

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