As expected, Aung San Suu Kyi has led her National League for Democracy to a landslide victory in the Myanmar elections, winning more seats in the two house of the Htulaw, the country’s bicameral parliament, than in the last election. Clearly, Suu Kyi’s appeal has not just remained undiminished over five years of incumbency, it has increased. Her first electoral triumph — in 1990 — led to her imprisonment by the military junta for most part of the next two decades. In 2015, three years after Suu Kyi’s release, when Myanmar voted in its first open election, there was never any doubt that the NLD would emerge the victor. This time too, despite a range of grievances against the NLD government, Suu Kyi has prevailed. Her double promise of making a full transition to democracy and take the country back from the Army, and to arrive at a peace deal with the armed ethnic minorities waging war in the border areas, were both stuck. However, Suu Kyi’s defiance of the international community over the Rohingya issue won her support at home. Her party has decisively trounced the Union of Solidarity and Development Party, the military-backed party whose members are mostly retired soldiers, despite a toxic and communal campaign that targeted Suu Kyi and NLD as favouring the Rohingya and the Muslim community.
However, the large scale cancellation of voting in the Rakhine areas disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of Rohingya that still remain in the country, has marred the election. Some 8,00,000 Rohingya live in terrible conditions in a camp in Bangladesh’s Cox Bazar and could not vote anyway. Myanmar’s reluctance to take them back — it does not recognise Rohingya as an indigenous minority of the country — has been a blot on Suu Kyi’s international credentials as an icon of democracy. The new NLD government cannot continue pretending indefinitely that the problem does not exist or that it does not concern it.
The NLD has reached out to the many other ethnic minorities in regions and states along its troubled border areas, inviting the representative political parties that contested these elections to join hands in a national government. This is a step towards reaching a peace deal with these groups. However, Suu Kyi’s main challenge would be to reform the 2008 military drafted Constitution in which the Army wrote in a role for itself in government and national politics. For India, the victory of NLD, with which Delhi has long-standing relations, will provide continuity even if it is Beijing to which Suu Kyi has turned for comfort in the face of world opprobrium.
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