Suu Kyi rewrites political landscape with landslide victory

Suu Kyi rewrites political landscape with landslide victory
PHOTO: Reuters

Exactly five years after her release from house arrest as part of a calibrated transition to democracy from decades of military rule, Ms Aung San Suu Kyi has powered her National League for Democracy (NLD) to an outright majority in Myanmar's Parliament.

The NLD needed 329 seats to do that, but the number as of yesterday afternoon was 364 - and counting.

The resounding landslide victory rewrites the country's political landscape, putting the NLD in a position to form a government and also elect a president of its choice.

Focus is now shifting to post-election dialogue, essentially between the NLD and the current government, on the transfer of power.

Ms Suu Kyi has requested a meeting with President Thein Sein, armed forces chief Min Aung Hlaing and Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann, which is likely to take place next week.

"This meeting will be very, very important because they have no experience in transferring power to other parties, especially to opposition parties," NLD spokesman and Central Executive Committee member Nyan Win said.

"We want to negotiate and compromise to change smoothly," he told The Straits Times at the party's office in Yangon, where the mood was upbeat but business-like.

Meanwhile, the President has called political parties to a meeting in Yangon tomorrow. The agenda is unclear but two representatives from each party have been asked to attend, possibly to discuss the post-election situation, sources said.

In Myanmar's system, Mr Thein Sein will remain as president with full powers until the formal installation of a new president and Cabinet in March next year. He congratulated the NLD on its victory and said he would meet Ms Suu Kyi once the final results of Sunday's election are announced.

Divisions and accommodations of power are likely to be key issues at next week's meeting.

The NLD's parliamentary majority makes it almost certain that its nominee for president will get the post. The party dominates both Houses, each of which gets to nominate a candidate for president. A third is nominated by the army bloc, which has a guaranteed 25 per cent of seats. The newly elected MPs get to vote. The two runners-up become vice-presidents.

Ms Suu Kyi is constitutionally barred from taking the top post because her two sons are foreign nationals, but she has said she will be the one wielding the real power.

Mr Nyan Win, a close confidant and legal adviser to Ms Suu Kyi,said that one of the top priorities of the new civilian government was to change the Constitution - including Article 59(f), which bars Ms Suu Kyi from the presidency.

Mr Nyan Win admitted some uncertainty. "I don't know what will happen," he said. "But the chief (General Min Aung Hlaing) has said two or three times that they will honour the result."

Analysts are cautiously optimistic.

"I think there will be an orderly transfer of power but whether it will be smooth, in the sense that different political tendencies work together for the good of the country, is harder to say," Yangon-based independent analyst Richard Horsey told The Straits Times.

"I think everyone understands what is at stake, and no one wants to spoil things now, but there is much that can go wrong given the divergent perspectives and lack of trust," he said.

In an editorial yesterday, The Irrawaddy, which is normally critical of the government, credited Union Election Commissioner Tin Aye, a former general widely seen before the election as biased towards the military, with helping to "build a bridge on which key political and army stakeholders can walk toward a more prosperous future".

This article was first published on November 14, 2015.
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