On Sunday, even as the leaders of the largest and the oldest democracies met in New Delhi, one of the most undemocratic countries in the world went to its first polls in 20 years. But the elections in Myanmar carry only a vestige of parliamentary politics, in the absence of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy party. Indeed, even a surprise result would only foist one military-backed party instead of another.
Yet, amid reports that Suu Kyi may be released later this week (and the caveat cannot be overstressed), the elections do signal a drive towards greater political legitimacy in the junta’s mindset, and could lead to increased regional integration and lesser sanctions for Myanmar. That would benefit the junta, to be sure, but it could also help alleviate the country’s grinding poverty. For Myanmar, that is a more immediate concern than any debate over democracy.