Opposition Poised for Victory
Nov. 12, 2015
Election officials in Myanmar say Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), is heading for victory in the nationwide elections. The party leader is laying the groundwork for the transfer of power.
The Election Commission had released results for 72 percent of the contested seats as of noon on Thursday local time. Officials say the NLD has captured 291 of the 664 seats in parliament. The military-backed governing Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has tallied 33.
Myanmar emerged from military rule four years ago, but the USDP is led by former military officers.
The focus of the election has been on whether the opposition would further loosen the military's grip on power. Aung San Suu Kyi has requested talks with the president and military chief on national reconciliation.
The military retains strong political influence in the country, holding top cabinet posts and one-quarter of the seats in parliament. It also has veto power on issues, including constitutional change.
Aung San Suu Kyi apparently wants an early dialogue with the military to ensure a smooth transfer of power.
Sho Beppu gives his opinion on and a background of the events currently unfolding in Myanmar.
Basically everyone agrees that Sunday's election marks a historic change in Myanmar. But, what does "historic", in fact, mean? Well, this could be the first time in history that the country moves toward becoming a modern democracy in a peaceful manner. And, a large number of people are excited about this prospect.
That's because the history of Myanmar has been marked by oppression and hardship.
In the 19th century, British imperialism reached this part of the world. The British army repeatedly attacked the local kingdom and eventually colonized the country.
During World War Two, the Japanese army took over and ruled the country for some years, but British rule returned soon after the defeat of Japan.
It was in 1948 when the country finally won independence from Britain.
The independence movement was led by a nationalist, General Aung San. He played a central move in the fight against foreign rule and is widely considered as the "Father of the Nation." Aung San Suu Kyi is his daughter.
But the newly born country was not stable. In 1962, the military seized power after staging a coup. For the next half century, the country remained under heavy military influence.
Myanmar has effectively been under military control since 1962, when the civilian government was overthrown in a coup. A pro-democracy movement began to gain momentum in 1988, particularly among students.
Aung San Suu Kyi was its leader.
"Don't give in to oppression, and let's try our best to achieve democracy," she said at the time.
But the military government put down the movement by force, and it didn't hesitate to turn its guns on its own citizens. The government put Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest and continued its autocratic rule.
"I've done nothing wrong. Nevertheless, I'm a bad guy in the eyes of my opponents," Saw Maung, chairman of the State Law and Order Restoration Council, once complained.
Myanmar held two general elections while Aung San Suu Kyi was under lock and key.
The first, in 1990, saw the NLD win by a landslide. But the military government ignored the results and held on to power.
The second election, in 2010, was boycotted by the opposition parties, who said a fair vote was impossible.
But now the NLD has won a landslide victory in what's being called the first openly contested election in decades. Expectations are rising that the vote will help Myanmar continue down the road to democracy.
Sho Beppu spoke with Dr. Khin Zaw Win in Yangon, an expert on politics in Myanmar.
Beppu: Now attention is now focused on the new government. What do you think the challenges will be to form the framework of the new government?
Khin Zaw Win: As I’ve said earlier, the NLD cannot go it alone. A government of national reconciliation is being mooted. We will have to wait and see whether this will happen and how broad the coalition can be.
Beppu: There will be many challenges even after the new government kicks in. What is the biggest task facing it?
Khin Zaw Win: Achieving peace after a 65-year civil war, relations with ethnic and religious minorities, civil-military relations, reducing the powers of the military, equitable economic development, and addressing environmental damage.
Beppu: Aung San Suu Kyi is known for her role as an opposition figure but it is unknown for her abilities in leadership. Do you think she will be able to play her hand well in implementing policies?
Khin Zaw Win: Frankly I have my reservations about that. The only way is to have good advisers and to listen to them.
Beppu: What is the outlook for the country's economy?
Khin Zaw Win: There has been growth, but it has not been shared equally. That is perhaps the greatest economic challenge, and it can quickly become political if not realized.
Beppu: What do you hope from the international community?
Khin Zaw Win: The remaining sanctions are not a major problem anymore. As for the military, there is a subtle shift towards new relationships elsewhere. I believe that since Myanmar has to do so much to reconstruct, good relations with all members of the international community should be continued. There is too much to be done domestically for Myanmar to think about entering into alliances and playing between the big powers. I would opt for an independent foreign policy, without influence from any country. We have done this before, and we can do it again.
We have seen other countries in the past emerge from autocratic rule or dictatorship. Most recently, we saw political change in several Arab countries.
The world, or more precisely, the West, was firm in its praise for the change of governments. But, the aftermath of the "Arab Spring" has shown how fragile democracy can be, especially in countries that have weak socio-economic infrastructures.
We are no doubt witnessing a historical moment in Myanmar and it could be easy to simply praise that as well.
But history shows that now it is the time for the international community to be ready for engagement and to provide continued support.