By all available accounts, the election in Myanmar was, to use democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi's words, largely free if not fair. Results of the election dribbling out of Naypyitaw indicate a landslide win for her party. While it was a shame that the minority Rohingya were not allowed to vote, it is significant that the people of Myanmar, a nation of myriad ethnicities and numerous civil wars, have come as one to pledge their faith in Ms Suu Kyi, the daughter of the nation's independence hero, Aung San, whose centennial birth anniversary is being marked this year.
Even the entrenched military, which robbed her of her election victory in 1990 despite an unequivocal mandate, has acknowledged her success this time. That gesture holds promise for Myanmar. Too often, new leaders in Asia have been stymied by the unwillingness of those holding the upper hand to accept the gyrations of the democratic process. On her part, Ms Suu Kyi has done well to call for national reconciliation and to aver that she will not seek vengeance or persecute those who had tormented her. It is a wise step as the military will continue to hold vital functions such as defence, border security and home affairs.
It was less than a decade ago that Myanmar's leadership, at a summit in Singapore, stood up to the rest of Asean and insisted on arranging the political furniture inside their home the way they chose to. It is now clear that while this was indeed their stand publicly, the wise counsel of Asean partners was not ignored either. From the freeing of Ms Suu Kyi from house arrest exactly five years ago to the current elections, Myanmar's rulers have travelled considerable distance. This has been rewarded in many ways, including a widening trickle of foreign investment and the steady easing of Western sanctions. This goodwill, when taken at the flood, could lead to prosperity.
Now that Myanmar's people have had their say, it is time to consider what lies ahead. There is little doubt that the verdict is a vote for Ms Suu Kyi personally. Her years of incarceration, long struggle and steadfast determination have been amply rewarded. Yet, the realities of her situation are that while mandated to rule, she is not eligible to do so. The Constitution, no doubt designed for precisely this purpose, disallows her from holding the presidency on account of her close kin being non-Myanmar nationals. The military must now stay the democratic course and find a way to hand the full reins to her. That said, Ms Suu Kyi should not overplay her hand by, for example, insisting that the president she picks "will be told exactly what he can do". If only because her challenges are so daunting and the possibility that the expectations she raises may run into a wall of disappointment, it is wise to put some distance in the public mind between the de jure power centre and the de facto one.