Who would have thought a few years ago that Myanmar's entrenched military rulers would yield ground peacefully to a government elected by the people. Indeed, people were the source of national insecurities, given their fissiparous tendencies. But this is precisely what this land of a hundred ethnic groups has accomplished. Myanmar should be congratulated for its power transition. On Feb 1, newly sworn-in parliamentarians of the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, took their places in the teak-panelled legislature in what must count as a truly historic day in the annals of this strategically perched nation that links South-east Asia to South and Central Asia. It says a lot of their long struggle for democracy that some 100 of the new legislators have served prison time fighting for this day.
Now comes the even harder part. Outsize victories draw exaggerated expectations. For proof, ask Mr Narendra Modi in next-door India, who campaigned on a slogan of "good times are a-coming". Now, despite his prodigious energy and commitment, he is struggling to fulfil the promise. In Myanmar, the NLD's domination is near total - more than 80 per cent of elected seats - but the situation is complicated by the fact that fully a fourth of the seats in the Upper and Lower Houses of the legislature are reserved for the armed forces. While this should not affect day-to-day governance, the army maintains a veto on issues related to defence, borders, internal security and the bureaucracy. And it does seal the fate of any changes to the Constitution, particularly related to who qualifies to be President.
Ms Suu Kyi, under current law, is ruled out because she married a foreigner and has children who hold overseas passports - clauses specifically inserted years ago to thwart her. She has said before that she intends to be "above the President" - poorly chosen words that could land her in future difficulty, especially for someone elected on her democratic credentials. It helps to a point that for now, at least, the men in uniform seem prepared to rest in the barracks, joining counterparts in nations like Indonesia and Pakistan where the forces once dominated political life as well. They should be given every incentive to stay there.
What lies ahead for Myanmar, a nation of 51 million people blessed with abundant natural resources, depends on how Ms Suu Kyi's government feels its way across the stones on the Irrawaddy River delta. The solutions may seem to stare her in the face: Open the economy, work to reduce disparities, integrate closely with its Asean neighbours, stay clear of Big Power rivalry, and broker peace with insurgents. But several of those initiatives would come with a political price, and a potential clash with entrenched military-linked interests. It is no easy task and fellow Asean members would wish her well.