Myanmar needs to go further

Aung San Suu Kyi. Image: Simon Davis/DFID

Aung San Suu Kyi. Image: Simon Davis/DFID

The National League of Democracy (NLD) surged ahead in the polls in what Obama has commended as Myanmar’s first free and fair elections in 25 years. Aung san Suu Kyi, leader of the NLD, has secured majorities in both legislative chambers, despite the ring-fencing of 25% of seats for the military before the poll. However, the obvious influence of the military and the ruling party, the Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP) has not gone unnoticed, with Suu Kyi said to be treading carefully. Considering that, in 1990, she was placed under house arrest whilst her party’s victory in the elections was nullified, Suu Kyi has every right to be cautious.

As leader of the NLD, Suu Kyi would be able to control executive power by proxy

Democracy has come a long way in Myanmar in the last decade. In this general election, 80% of roughly 30 million eligible voters cast their vote – 90% of those votes went to Suu Kyi’s NLD. This overwhelming mandate has given hope to the electorate that their votes have mattered and will remain to do so. With the outrage from Suu Kyi’s house arrest and subsequent denial of human rights still lingering, outgoing President Thein Sein would be ill-advised if he was to employ any corruption in handling the crushing loss of power.

Due to Myanmar’s constitution, Suu Kyi will not become president as her sons own British passports. She has, however, retained her constituency and has announced that she will be “making all decisions”, and had some candidates in mind for the presidency. As leader of the NLD, Suu Kyi would be able to control executive power by proxy, as well as through a cooperative president.

Rumours are circulating that the current president, Thein Sein, will be kept on for a few years

In light of the fact that she cannot hold presidential office, Suu Kyi sent a letter to President Thein Sein, the commander of the armed forces and the parliamentary speaker, asking to arrange a meeting to discuss a peaceful resolution on how to transfer the power. Given that any arrangement of talks has been delayed by the ruling party until after all results have been announced, spectators remain cynical regarding Thein Sein’s handling of what many see as a deserved defeat of the USDP.

Bagan, Myanmar. Image: Rodrigo Encinas

Bagan, Myanmar. Image: Rodrigo Encinas

Though majority military rule may apparently be on the verge of being over, there are still many obstacles that the NLD face to ensure that democracy prevails. Rumours are circulating that the current president, Thein Sein, will be kept on for a few years. In addition, it is said that Suu Kyi tried to make a deal with the military to increase the chance of bringing about constitutional change in his favour. In any case, major decisions will be made behind closed doors: this does not indicate a positive future for a transparent government.

In order for the fate of people to be protected, Suu Kyi’s new government should focus on protecting the rights of especially persecuted minorities (such as the Rohingya), in order to set a precedent for assured equality among individuals. If the leader of the NLD has a puppet installed for president, then this is not democracy at its finest. Change can only happen if the NLD commit to erasing acts of corruption; the seal of full democracy has yet to be stamped on Myanmar.

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