Myanmar's precious gift

Bendigo Weekly | Bendigo Weekly | 13-Nov-2015

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By LISA CHESTERS
Federal Member for Bendigo

In Australia, some of us take the right to vote as an inconvenience. For the people of Myanmar, it is a precious gift. 

It was a real privilege last week to be one of three members of the Australian Parliament, along with Senators Dean Smith and Scott Ludlam, to be part of the 1000 international election observers.

At first, the locals treated us with caution. Once they found out we were from Australia, they all wanted to shake our hands, and thank us and our country for allowing Myanmar’s first democratic vote since 1990 to take place.

AusAid and the Australian Electoral Commission have played an important role in this process, hosting a delegation of the Myanmar Union Election Commission at the 2013 Australian federal election, and offering training poll workers among other
initiatives.

The AEC’s efforts on the Myanmar Election Day were evident and we can be proud of the role they have played in Myanmar’s path back to democracy.   

A few local people shared their views with me when I asked what election day meant to them.

A young Myanmar woman said to me: “I have grown up under this reign and this is all we (my generation) know. I have never known what it means to live in a free country. You cannot know what this means to for us.”

Another man said to me: “I have been waiting for this day for a very, very long time.”

For young people this was their first ever election they had the right to vote in.

I met a local staffer of our Australian Embassy in Myanmar. We were about the same age but this is the first election she had the opportunity to vote in.

For older people, the last time they voted in 1990 the military dictatorship refused to acknowledge the outcome. 

They welcomed this massive win by the opposition cautiously and will wait patiently for the new democratically election representatives to take their place in the national parliament.

It was one of the most heartbreaking and yet inspiring experiences I have ever had. It feels as though the military has taken the country, broken it, and is now handing it back to the people of Myanmar to fix.

The election was just the start of a long process of repair and reconstruction. 

Going forward, Australia has a role to play to assist in the rebirth of this country.

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