Epic change & upheaval - Looking back: Events that shaped the year

7. NLD win a watershed in Myanmar history

Supporters of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi hold posters bearing her image as she speaks during a campaign rally on Nov 1, 2015.
Supporters of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi hold posters bearing her image as she speaks during a campaign rally on Nov 1, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

2015 was a year of tragedies, disasters and terror. Some, like the quake in Nepal, were over almost instantly while others, like the European migrant crisis and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, were dramas that unfolded daily. But there were also uplifting moments, such as the Myanmar general election and the Paris climate deal.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) swept Myanmar's Nov 8 general election, the outcome surpassing the party's own expectations. It won a majority in the 664-seat Parliament and reduced the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party to a thin back bench.

The emotional wave stirred by NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi highlighted the paradox of Myanmar's system: Under the current Constitution, she cannot become president because her two sons are British citizens.

But she made clear she would nominate the next president and hold real power as party leader.

The situation also highlighted the need for compromise and accommodation, which are key to stability. Initial signs are hopeful. Ms Suu Kyi held talks with President Thein Sein and armed forces chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. More importantly, she met retired dictator Than Shwe, who endorsed her as Myanmar's future leader.

Challenges remain for the NLD. These include delivering on the high expectations of voters who largely equate democracy and an NLD government with prosperity and more rights.

Underlying these challenges is the need to maintain a working relationship with a military that still controls important portfolios.

Still, the election and the NLD's victory are major turning points for Myanmar, coming five years after a calibrated shift to quasi-democracy after decades of stifling military rule.

Nirmal Ghosh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 20, 2015, with the headline 'NLD win a watershed in Myanmar history'. Print Edition | Subscribe