Myanmar poised for smooth transition

Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's pro-democracy National League for Democracy has won more than 80 per cent of the parliamentary seats, so far.
Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's pro-democracy National League for Democracy has won more than 80 per cent of the parliamentary seats, so far.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Generals pledge peaceful transfer of power as NLD heads for victory

YANGON • Myanmar's military establishment yesterday pledged to ensure a smooth transition of power as Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's pro-democracy party stood on the verge of a crushing election win.

United States President Barack Obama yesterday called Ms Suu Kyi - her National League for Democracy (NLD) has won more than 80 per cent of the parliamentary seats declared, so far - to commend her on their success.

He also called Myanmar President Thein Sein to congratulate him on successfully conducting a historic general election.

Last night, results showed that the NLD won 291 out of the 359 declared seats in Parliament. Because elections were not held in seven constituencies, the NLD just needs 38 more seats to claim a simple majority of 329 in the 664-member Parliament. The army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has won only 33 seats, so far.

If the full results confirm the trend, Ms Suu Kyi's triumph will sweep out an old guard of former generals who have run Myanmar since Mr Thein Sein ushered in sweeping democratic and economic reforms four years ago.

Mr Thein Sein and powerful army chief Min Aung Hlaing have already endorsed Ms Suu Kyi's victory. The two men have also agreed to Ms Suu Kyi's request to hold reconciliation talks soon, although the parties are still to agree on the details.

"As the government, we will respect and obey the election results and transfer power peacefully," said Mr Thein Sein in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

After meeting the military top brass yesterday, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, in a statement, said: "Tatmadaw will do what is best, in cooperation with the new government, during the post-election period." Tatmadaw refers to the Myanmar armed forces.

The military continues to wield considerable power in Myanmar's political institutions under a Constitution drafted before the end of nearly 50 years of junta rule.

In addition to the armed forces holding an unelected 25 per cent bloc of seats in Parliament, the army chief nominates the heads of the powerful interior, defence and border security ministries. The interior ministry has control over the country's bureaucracy, which could pose a significant obstacle to the NLD's ability to execute policy.

It is unclear how Ms Suu Kyi and the generals will work together. The NLD won a 1990 election by a landslide but the junta ignored the result and tightened its grip on power.

In a statement, the White House said Mr Obama and Mr Thein Sein "discussed the importance for all parties to respect the official results, once announced, and to work together with a spirit of unity to form an inclusive, representative government that reflects the will of the people".

Mr Thein Sein's presidential spokesman and Information Minister Ye Htut, referring to Mr Obama, said on his Facebook page: "He said America would continue cooperating with the Myanmar government."

Mr Obama has visited Myanmar, also known as Burma, twice over the past three years, hoping to make its transition to democracy a foreign policy legacy of his presidency.

In his phone conversation with Ms Suu Kyi, Mr Obama "commended her for her tireless efforts and sacrifice over so many years, to promote a more inclusive, peaceful, and democratic Burma".

Ms Suu Kyi's own path to power is blocked by the 2008 Constitution that bars anyone with foreign children - or a foreign husband - from the presidency. Her sons are British citizens, as was her late husband.

Now that her party is poised to take power, it is likely she will put forward a proxy for the role, an appointment aided by a large majority.

Mr Shwe Mann, a former general who is also Speaker of Parliament, was previously tipped as a compromise candidate for the top office. But he has been sidelined by the USDP, and lost his seat in the election to an NLD candidate.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2015, with the headline 'Myanmar poised for smooth transition'. Print Edition | Subscribe