Aung San Suu Kyi’s party says it has won enough seats to form government

Supporters of the National League for Democracy party react in front of the party's headquarters in Yangon, Myanmar, on Nov 8, 2020. PHOTO: AFP
The general election was seen as a referendum on the fledgling democratic government led by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's ruling NLD. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK - Myanmar's ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) has won enough votes to form the government, the party said after Sunday's general election which drew a large turnout despite the coronavirus pandemic.

"We have enough seats to form the government, or perhaps even more than needed," NLD spokesman Monywa Aung Shin told The Straits Times on Monday (Nov 9).

Although official results have yet to be announced, he confirmed that NLD leader and state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi successfully defended her Lower House seat in Kawhmu township.

President Win Myint, representing the NLD in Yangon's Tamwe township, similarly beat off other challengers, he said.

The election was the second since Myanmar eased out of direct military rule in 2011 and was seen as a gauge of popular support for the NLD, which was widely expected to win.

Under a power-sharing system drawn up by the former ruling junta, 25 per cent of all Parliament seats are reserved for the military, which also controls the defence, home affairs and border affairs ministries.

In 2015, the NLD won almost 80 per cent of contested seats in the Upper and Lower Houses. But it has since disappointed ethnic minority allies, among other groups, which have tried to go their own in this election.

Voting was cancelled in some areas, including much of Rakhine state, where the military is waging war against the ethnic Rakhine Arakan Army.

Taking into account these cancellations, the NLD needs to win at least 322 Parliament seats this time so that it can govern without turning to appointees of the military or its proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party.

The election was held amid a surging Covid-19 outbreak which has killed at least 1,420 in Myanmar so far. The number of infections, which reached 61,377on Sunday night, have been climbing by some 1,000 or more each day.

Although the election commission was heavily criticised for its opaque decisions before the poll, observers noted that the actual event went fairly well.

The Yangon-based People's Alliance for Credible Elections, in a report released on Monday, said the polls went generally smoothly despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic.

"Overall, the election-day process was peaceful, and no major incidents were recorded," it said.

According to state media, 5,639 candidates and 87 political parties took part in the polls.

Supporters of the National League for Democracy party wave flags in front of the party's office in Mandalay, Myanmar on Nov 8, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

In the week before the election, powerful military chief Min Aung Hlaing publicly rebuked the election commission and the government, and refused to commit to honouring the election results. The tension only eased on Sunday when he said he would accept the people's wishes.

"I feared something bad would happen," Kachin state-based voter Jar Seng Bu,27, told The Straits Times: "But nothing happened after the election. I feelsecure now, and happy that I could vote."

So widely anticipated is NLD's triumph that thousands of exuberant supporters massed at the party headquarters in Yangon's Bahan township on Sunday night, ignoring pleas from the party to disperse.

There are preliminary reports that the NLD managed to widen the majority it won in 2015.

Mr David Mathieson, an independent Myanmar researcher, said the preliminary results showed "there is a lot more patience out there than wemight have believed".

"A lot of people who might actually recognise the shortcomings of the NLD as a government, dissociate Aung San Suu Kyi from that. To them, she can do no wrong," he told The Straits Times.

"And if things have been slower, and gains much lesser than what many people havethought, then that's because (to them) there is a long way to go."

Additional reporting by Aye De Par Naing

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