Myanmar military promises cooperation in political transition

Despite the stunning electoral landslide of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, it is still unclear how much clout the military will exert.

Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP
Police officers read a copy of the newspaper "Democracy Today" in Yangon, Myanmar, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015. Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has won her parliamentary seat, official results showed Wednesday, leading a near total sweep by her party that will give the country its first government in decades that isn't under the military's sway.

The military rulers of Myanmar yesterday officially ceded the national elections to the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, and today the nation’s Army chief congratulated the Nobel Prize winner and promised “cooperation” in forming a new government, according to Agence France-Presse.

On Thursday Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) appeared only 38 seats away from claiming a stunning majority in both houses of parliament. Votes were still being counted after an election landslide of more than 80 percent, says the Guardian. She sent letters to government leaders requesting talks on transition from quasi-military rule. 

The election victory in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is the latest turn in a quarter-century struggle between authoritarian forces of the military junta and a civic “people's” movement bent on more democracy and freedom. As the scope of the victory is becoming clearer, Aung San Suu Kyi is calling for national reconciliation talks.

“Welcoming the New Guard,” is the headline today in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

US President Barack Obama called President Thein Sein and congratulated him on a free and fair election. Chinese foreign ministry spokesmen lauded a smooth election and vowed to work with the winners.

Since Sunday, there has been deep popular suspicion about whether the military will actually cede power, as The Christian Science Monitor reported.

If past is prologue, the next few days will be crucial. In 1990, the NLD won a similar landslide in an open election. Two months later, the military said the election had not been for seats in parliament but instead for a constitution-drafting assembly. The junta stayed in power, and most of the NLD’s leadership was jailed for protesting the announcement.

NLD officials continued to voice such concerns today. But as the formal trappings of victory begin to be further established, analysts are talking about what amounts to a very different rule and government.

The New York Times today notes that:

Winning a majority in both houses of Parliament, as the National League for Democracy appears to have done in Sunday’s elections, would give the party control over both the legislative and executive branches of government — a breathtaking sweep of power for the democracy movement.

The 2008 Constitution established criteria that bar Aung San Suu Kyi from being president. But in recent days, the woman known as both "The Lady" and "Maa Suu" has said that the leader of the winning party – in this case, Aung San Suu Kyi – will hold the main power. 

So far it is Myanmar’s Muslim minority that has been most seriously bypassed by the new electoral franchise, a fact singled out by US officials the day after the election.

The Wall Street Journal today writes that, “Muslims are turning out to be among the biggest losers in Myanmar’s historic elections, with many not allowed to vote and no Muslim representation in parliament.”

The Journal continues:

Muslims officially make up 4 [percent] of the country’s population, but some experts say the number is higher, up to a 10th of the country’s population of 51 million. Some have full citizenship, but not the stateless Rohingya, who despite having lived in Myanmar for generations are considered by the government to be foreigners from neighboring Bangladesh.

The Muslims have said, however, that they will appeal to the new government formed by Aung San Suu Kyi for more representation.

One of the surprises of the vote is that the main body of Buddhist monks appears to have outflanked a hardline set of Buddhist nationalist monks.

A Christian Science Monitor editorial pointed out that only two days after the elections, Myanmar was voted the world's "most generous nation," since nine of 10 people there give to charities. This giving spirit is described as owing the nation's Buddhist traditions, and it was suggested that spirit helped in the long struggle leading to this week's people's mandate. 

The NLD’s victory in the Nov. 8 parliamentary elections was really a win for the egalitarian nature of Myanmar’s culture of Theravada Buddhism. The people’s daily generosity of giving and volunteering helped sustain a desire for compassionate rulers who are peaceful and meet the needs of all the people. If the NLD can now gain enough influence over the remaining power of the generals, that desire might be fulfilled.

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