Change in Myanmar?
|Supporters of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League of Democracy (NLD) AFP/Getty Images|
By Editorial of The News International
November 12, 2015
Myanmar has recently been in the news because of its repression of ethnic minorities, especially the Rohingya Muslims. Despite the fact that the country has been in the midst of a civilian transition since 2011 after decades of military rule, the control of the military on matters official and unofficial remains strong. In this context, the dramatic and almost total victory of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, has come as a shock more than a surprise. Not only has the NLD managed to win a majority of the contested seats, it may have managed to have secured an absolute majority in the country where 25 percent of all seats in parliament are still allotted to the army. The country still has a commander-in-chief and a strong president who are unlikely to cede control easily. This is why the results of the November 8 election, as welcome as they may seem, present a challenge unlike any other Suu Kyi has faced. Governing the country while bearing the opposition of the country’s strong military junta will be a difficult task.
This is why Suu Kyi’s first message has been to the commander-in-chief, president and speaker to meet and discuss ‘national reconciliation.’ The subtext is that Suu Kyi knows that she will have to govern with the support of the army despite having insisted last week that she would be ‘above the president’ if the NLD was able to win power. Most international observers are holding off on celebrations; months of political negotiations are now expected on how power will be shared with the country’s military elite. The NLD’s victory creates another concern. Its victory has rooted out smaller ethnic-based political parties which represented the country’s 40 percent ethnic minority populations. Given Suu Kyi’s long silence over the oppression of the Rohingya Muslims, concerns over whether the diversity of Myanmar will be represented in government are real. Recognising this, Suu Kyi had earlier spoken of the need for a government that reconciles all groups, but her stunning victory in the elections might change her stance to the worse. With polling monitors reporting a ‘well-run’ polling process, perhaps change is coming to Myanmar. But while the Myanmar establishment will have been shaken by the poll results, the commander-in-chief retains key powers including appointing the heads of the interior, defence and border security ministries. The election has been a great victory for the decades-old democracy movement in the country. It is easy to forget that Suu Kyi won her Nobel Prize in 1991. It is also easy to forget that hundreds of thousands of people in Myanmar, including the Rohingya, were denied the right to vote in this election. These are the contradictions that Myanmar’s democracy will have to take on directly.