Congratulations to the people of Myanmar, or Burma as we used to call it. Today they have just sworn in their first democratically elected government for over 50 years. This has been a long and hard struggle, personified by the calm and determined leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi and her thousands of supporters in the National League for Democracy. Credit must also go to Thein Sein the former army general who has led the process of the military’s slow relinquishment of power. Such transitions of power are never easy. It is always a struggle. There are many problems Myanmar has to face, not least finding a peaceful and equitable place for the Rohingya Muslims in the new democratic Myanmar.
It’s now five years since the Arab Spring when many people hoped that a peaceful and inclusive transition from authoritarian to democratic government would sweep across the Arab World. It failed. Some partial progress has been made in Tunisia, ghastly civil war grips Syria, Libya is in chaos and Egypt under Sisi has echoes of the Mubarak era. I guess the lesson from Myanmar to the pro-democracy voices in the Arab world is simply to have patience, it can be a long and slow process, but in the end progress is possible.
Countless countries have made this transition from authoritarianism to democracy. Once democracy is established it is never perfect and always subject to being subverted by vested interests or distorted by populist hate-fuelled demigods. It remains as Winston Churchill said ‘the worst form of governance, except for all the others’. It is often those politicians who suffered most under authoritarian regimes who make the best democrats. For me the three greatest leaders of recent times have been South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, Uruguay’s Jose Mujica and Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi. And today congratulations go to Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Myanmar. Good luck!
BBC Myanmar coverage here