New Orleans Today I’m sharing an on-the-ground report of the Election Day excitement from Yangon, Myanmar of the first democratically conducted election in more than twenty-five years. The report is from Mike Orders, a recently retired business representative from the British Columbia Government Employees Union in Vancouver, who served as an election observer there in recent days. Brother Orders was with us when the Organizers’ Forum visited Yangon several years ago. It’s impossible to read his report without being caught up in the excitement: Here it goes:
Upon completion of my E – Day bit yesterday, I headed to the [National League for Democracy] NLD head office not far from the world famous Shwe Dagon Pagoda. I had been to this office a couple times in the past so was very familiar with its location. Tereena [my wife] and I visited the office four years ago and she bought a very nice traditional NLD woman’s blouse. I was there again two years ago with a 10 person delegation of Americans and Canadians [with the Organizers’ Forum] and had the great fortune of sitting down with one of the co-founders of the party, the one time military commander for the country, a man named U Tin Oo.
He was a marvelous man to meet with a presence that filled the room and as a patriarch of the party, then in his early 80’s, his stories… were historical and personal. His transformation from military commander to political activist was immediate and complete and he had dedicated the 25 plus years since, and still is today, to the great cause.
When asked how he proceeds as an activist with the only political party that is a direct threat to the military and its government party, the USDP; his answer was simple. “We push” he said. “We push until they get jittery, until they get a bit nervous, then we pull back. When everything returns to quiet, we push again”. This was a definitive political strategy that culminated yesterday.
The trip in the taxi to the office was swift, an odd experience in itself as this city has possibly the worst traffic in SE Asia. I’ll come back to the why of that a bit later, but when we got about a kilometer from the office, the road effectively ended. People, masses of them. So I walked the last distance and could hear a roaring celebration getting louder as I approached.
Thousands had gathered as the party had placed big screens in front that had live coverage of the scrutineered counts within various constituencies. We were watching a count, one by one, of each ballot. As each vote was identified as NLD, the crowd cheered. When the tally boards were shown with all parties listed, then under the NLD were mass counts relative to other parties, the crowd erupted. One, one NLD vote; two, two NLD votes; three, three NLD votes. You get the picture.
I was caught in a wave of movement that was impossible to counteract. The oppression was made worse by cars and busses caught in the middle of the humans. They had not blocked the street before people showed up. The result was many vehicles were caught surrounded with no ability to move. No worries, a series of blocking teams went into action to push people out of the way of the vehicles so that they may get through, centimeter by centimeter, and the challenge then was to not get your toes run over. It worked over time, but from above it must have looked like some sort of anatomical example of peristalsis.
The effect for everyone was you were so captured by the bio-mass that the ability to move was impossible. Really, movement was pretty much gone. My arms were stuck at my side and it was with great effort I freed one at a time over my head to get my video camera focused on the stage in front of the office. My camera work is messy as heads and shoulders constantly bumped me. Once my arms were up, getting them down for a rest became a challenge. It was an extremely intimate experience.
But here’s the thing, everyone took it in good fun. The cheering never slowed, the smiles continued, chanting “NLD”, singing the NLD song over and over. That song is indelibly stamped in my head now….You may dance and sing and forget about me. It is definitely catchy.
I found myself in many selfies being taken. The cheery, inclusive, smiling people of Burma were in great spirits. One man took my hand and placed it over his heart. He said “My heart beats NLD, feel it?” I nodded that I did and he just gave me the warmest smile.
The biggest reason so many went was to see Aung San Suu Kyi. The high amount of international media was evident everywhere you looked. Some had very perplexed looks on their faces when they were watching. I always get the feeling from my own observations watching the international media that most got their background information on this country from reading news stories in the last two weeks. Many stories coming out show no real understanding of how very complicated things are here. Local media groups like Irrawaddy.com get the stories and understand the issues far better than anything I have read from foreign media. Back to Daw Suu.
She didn’t show up. Reason we were told is that it would take many more hours before there was any confidence on a result that could be shared. Before that was announced, one particular result was shared; one of the two VP’s had just lost his seat in Mandalay. The place went crazy with joy. This morning I found out that every seat in Mandalay went to the NLD. This is a huge win as this location has been a stronghold of a Nationalist Buddhist movement that was supporting the USDP – again, not much separation between church and state as yet. The monks are seen as a political force and are assumed to be quite influential. It seems the people of Mandalay felt a bit different.
The Nationalist Monks are not the majority, but they are the leadership of the Sangha. The Sangha is the monastic community of the ordained. But here’s the rub, the Sangha leadership is appointed by the government. There seems to be a quid pro quo in jeopardy, but y’know I am just outside looking in.
Today, the country is no wiser in terms of the result – … power just went out again – happens 3 or 4 times a day here; anyway, tomorrow is now the word for unofficial results so everyone is still waiting.
Can you remember? This is what democracy feels like!