The National League for Democracy led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi looks headed for a sweep in the November 8 election, Myanmar’s first full election since 1990. That election too was won by the NLD, but only to be rudely usurped by the military.
Though official results for the 1,171 seats – the upper and lower houses of Parliament and regional assemblies – may yet take days, Suu Kyi told the BBC that her party was set to win 75 per cent of the seats.
Members of the ruling military-linked Union Solidarity and Democratic Party have virtually conceded defeat. “We have a higher percentage of losses than wins,” Htay Oo, acting chairman of the USDP said while confirming he had lost his own seat.
Myanmar’s government is headed by an executive President, and the next step in government formation is the Presidential election. The President is indirectly elected, from three candidates, each put up by three sections of the Htulaw, or Parliament – the directly elected members of the lower house, the directly elected members of the upper house, and the nominees of the military for whom 25 per cent of the seats are reserved in the bicameral legislature.
Under the 2008 Constitution, the first session of the Htulaw has to be convened within 90 days of the official declaration of the results. It is safe to say the Presidential elections will not be held before the end of February or in March.
With the NLD poised for a thumping majority, the President will most likely be from the party. But it cannot be Suu Kyi, disqualified by the military-made Constitution that does not allow those with a foreign spouse or children to run. But she has made clear that she will be the government’s real centre of power, declaring that she will be “above” the President.
As to who she may nominate to the office, speculation has centred on U Tin Oo, the “emeritus chairman” of the NLD, a former general and commander in chief of the Myanmar Army who has been with the party since 1988. He is 88 years old.
Suu Kyi will still have to deal with a powerful military, which controls 25 per cent of the seats in Parliament, has entrenched itself in many ways in the country’s economy, and under the Constitution, can take over governance and administration at any time it chooses, “for participation of the entire people in Union security and defence”. It is named as “mainly responsible for safeguarding the Constitution”.
Among the challenges before her is to amend this Constitution in order to complete the transition to democracy. How supportive the army is of such moves will determine the country’s stability, and the NLD’s plans for its economic development. Suu Kyi has made clear that the Army occupies a central role in Myanmar’s national affairs. On this, she is no Benazir Bhutto, who was determined to take as much of an upper hand in a potential power-sharing deal with General Pervez Musharraf months before her assassination. She may well decide to ruling Myanmar jointly with the Tatmadaw, or the military.
Certainly she will need the military’s help and co-operation to keep the armed ethnic groups in the restive border regions under control. The insurgencies in these areas are another challenge for Suu Kyi and civil-military relations., Her father, General Aung San, is remembered for the February 1947 Panglong Agreement, under which the those leading the struggle for freedom from the British promised the ethnic regions internal administrative autonomy in a federal set up in independent Burma. He was assassinated a few months later. Since then, the military has kept those areas within the union of Myanmar mainly by force.
President Thein Sein recently signed a peace agreement with eight of 15 recognised armed groups, but two of the biggest armies were not part of the deal. The clashes in these areas continue. Any political settlement with these groups will need to be backed by the military as well.
What India wants from Myanmar is to ensure that militant groups in the northeastern states do not find safe haven in these border regions. The Myanmar army has offered extraordinary co-operation in this respect, to the extent of allowing hot pursuit by the Indian Army against Naga rebels earlier this year. New Delhi would like that to continue. India will also be looking at investment opportunities in a democratic Myanmar, considering it was one of the few countries doing business with the generals at a time when U.S and EU sanctions were fully operational. Myanmar is vital to India’s Look East Policy, and New Delhi will need to quickly close the gaps in its relations with the country’s democratic leadership.
The world will be watching Suu Kyi also for how she deals with the Rohingya issue. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Buddhist Myanmar, who are not counted as citizens, were kept out of the vote. More than 100,000 live in camps in Rakhine , after fleeing anti-Rohingya riots across the state bordering Bangladesh. Recently, hundreds of Rohingya took to the seas in makeshift vessels to seek refuge in other countries in the region, creating an unprecedented diplomatic crisis for the ASEAN. Myanmar is under pressure now, not just from Western countries and international human rights groups to resolve the Rohingya issue, but from its neighbours