By Karlton Tate
On Nov. 8, Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty craned their necks towards Southeast Asia to see the results of Myanmar’s crucial nationwide election as the votes dribbled in. American Embassy officials in Myanmar observed intently in every state and region of the country on election day, as the United States has considerable political interests in the country.
Several waves of Burmese immigrants have arrived on American shores fleeing political strife and military dictatorship, and many of these immigrants have been welcomed into the CHCCS school system and the the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community.
Human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi led the National League for Democracy Party (NLD) to victory on election day, capturing over 348 seats in Parliament, giving the NLD a majority and the ability to select the country’s next president. This hopefully peaceful transfer of parliamentary majority and government power from the military’s Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) to the NLD will mark the first time since 1962 that the Southeast Asian country has not been controlled by a military establishment.
Suu Kyi, who served 15 years as a political prisoner, is revered by many in the country, and has been dubbed “Mother Suu” and “The Lady” by her supporters. President Barack Obama has visited the country twice in the past three years, promoting democratization and commending Suu Kyi for the work she has done for her people.
Mother Suu has not gained universal favor however, as several western human rights groups have criticized Suu Kyi for her failure to support the Rohingya Muslim minority in the country. Thousands of Rohingya have been restricted or prohibited from voting in elections in the past, and the nationwide election on Nov. 9 was no exception. The numerous minority ethnic groups of Myanmar often vote for regional favorites over national icons, and a strong Rohingya presence may have drained support from Suu Kyi at the polls. Unsurprisingly, Suu Kyi’s strategy of deflecting the Rohingya issue, in a country with an intense anti-Muslim sentiment, has been successful in maintaining her popularity.
The newly elected Parliament will convene this coming January and elect a president the following March. However, abundant bureaucratic changes over a short period time may be an unrealistic goal of many NLD supporters. The military will remain a considerable force in the government, as it will retain direct control over the country’s police forces and other bureaucratic positions. Likewise, the commander-in-chief will maintain autonomy over both the president and parliament, while the military has strong veto powers over alterations to Myanmar’s Constitution. Furthermore, thanks to a clause in the country’s current Constitution, written by the military powers that dominated the government for over 50 years, Suu Kyi cannot serve as president. However, Suu Kyi pledges to select a competent president to serve as her proxy.
Hopefully, the results of the election will breed a peaceful democratic transformation for Myanmar, and put an end to the conflicts that have plagued the country for generations.
Photo courtesy of nytimes.com