The Potential Bright Side of Burma/Myanmar’s Sham Elections

On November 7, parties aligned with Burma’s military junta will likely claim victory in a bogus election. Chances are, the United States and Western Europe will reject the results. Meanwhile, China and much of the ASEAN countries will use the election as a pretext to deepen their engagement.

So will the election portend more misery for the long suffering Burmese people?  Maybe. But maybe not.   Lex Rieffel of the Brookings Institution sketches out a potential scenario in which the elections might just set into motion a series of events that would lead to a brighter future for Burma:

It is hard to imagine any election outcome that would make life worse than it already is for most people in Myanmar, but several factors could make their lives better. One is that the impact of deeper engagement with Myanmar’s Asian neighbors is likely to greatly outweigh the impact of tighter sanctions by the United States and other faraway countries. A second factor is that the new government—required by the constitution to take office within 90 days of the elections—may decide that its shelf life depends on achieving some “performance legitimacy.” Such legitimacy could come most easily from a series of small, “piecemeal” policy changes that expand the scope for free enterprise and personal advancement across the country.

One reason to believe the new Myanmar government may move in this direction is that the regime has already taken a number of similar initiatives during the past year, including the privatization of a wide range of government enterprises and properties. Another reason is that Myanmar’s Asian neighbors are likely to attach more importance to economic progress in Myanmar than to political progress. After all, their own modern histories invariably began with economic liberalization not with political liberalization. Good governance during the early stages of their modernization has been more closely linked to achieving high rates of economic growth than to having a democratically elected governments.

Obviously, there are a number of contingencies that need to happen for this outcome to transpire.   But I’m a glass-is-half-full sort of person and this does not seem to be completely out of the range of plausibility.    Am I missing something?