In two very different parts of the world, pro-democracy election victories gave activists hope that peaceful political transitions and the acceptance of opposition candidates into military parliaments are a very real possibility.
On March 25, Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade conceded defeat peacefully, after he tried to win a third term (despite the fact the Senegalese constitution expressly forbids more than two terms). The peaceful transition was a welcome relief to many on a continent where elections often lead to riots and drawn out spates of violence. To be fair, Senegal has been held up as an example of peaceful elections a number of times in the past, especially given the history of turbulence of its neighbors. Free elections have been held here since the late 19th century.
Wade had spent the past few months announcing that he was invincible and saying he would seek a third term. Which is why it was surprising to so many when he quietly left office last month after telephoning his opponent - Macky Sall, a former prime minister - to congratulate him, according to the Senegalese Press Agency.
In the days leading up to the first round of voting in February there were Arab Spring-like protests led by opposition politicians and Senegalese youth who wrote rap songs criticizing the 85-year old president.
Although 50-year-old Sall finished second in the first round of voting, he came back to beat Wade in the second round after other contenders gave him their backing.
By conceding defeat so quickly, Wade may have been trying to avoid the trauma that has afflicted neighboring Mali. Last month, Mali seemed to regress back to a military dictatorship after a coup saw power change hands.
“Senegal, in a transparent election, has proven once again that it is and remains a great democracy, a great country,” Mr. Wade’s press secretary said in a statement on Sunday announcing his concession.
Al Jazeera's Andrew Simmons, reporting from Dakar, said: "A lot of people could not envisage Abdoulaye Wade ever standing down. He was going for a controversial third term, insisting the constitution could be changed against the will of many, many people. He really misjudged the electorate…but within an hour of the polls closing we were told by a special adviser to the presidency that if it is a defeat he will do the honorable thing and make a phone call to his opposition candidate and basically concede defeat. Then, within an hour-and-a-half that phone call was made and people were already on the streets celebrating.”
Then on April 4, political activist and former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi won her seat in Myanmar's by-elections and her party claimed a landslide victory, with the National League for Democracy (NLD) winning all but one of the seats it contested.
While the country’s pro-democracy movement cheered, the military establishment and its proxy party, the USDP, must have been surprised. The USDP didn’t even win all the seats in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, a city created by military generals and populated by government civil servants, according to the BBC.
Despite the excitement, there are also ripples of tension - given that Myanmar's parliament is still dominated by the USDP and the block of seats still reserved for unelected members of the armed forces.
Those interviewed by the BBC after the election pointed out that 66-year-old Aung San Suu Kyi could not be expected to change the country on her own. Especially given that she now takes her seat in a parliament dominated by men who served the autocratic regime she fought against her whole life.
Yet the US and other Western nations are cautiously optimistic and want to show support to the reformers within the government.
“We are prepared to match positive steps of reform in Burma with steps of our own,” US State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, told reporters in Washington.
Others aren’t so sure.
“The US and EU should not reward the regime simply because the NLD has some seats in the parliament,” Aung Din, executive director of the US Campaign for Burma, warned. “They should wait until we see clearly how these newly-elected MPs are treated by the USDP and the military in parliament.”
(Photo in frontpage © AFP)
(Photo © AP)