If you ask Tin Mg Win, the landslide win seized by Myanmar opposition party the National League for Democracy (NLD) on November 8th’s general election is too early to celebrate. The 83-year-old former general manager at Yangon’s AC Martin, a US architecture firm, recalls the last time the NLD came out victorious at the ballot box, and he knows better than to harbour high expectations.
“The [incumbent] USDP (Union Solidarity and Development Party) lost both times because they don’t rule with kindness and mercy,” Tin Mg Win told Newsweek. “But for the NLD, even if they won and can choose their president, they will have a difficult time in governing because the military is still the administrator of local police and borderland military.”
Based on the constitution, in addition to a guaranteed 25 percent of parliamentary seats, the military junta’s commander-and-chief will retain control of three powerful ministries with plenty of cash at their disposal. Having control over the interior, defense and border security ministries keeps coercive power firmly in the hands of the military. The NLD will be at a loss when trying to govern matters concerning the handling of conflict with ethnic groups along the borders and in deploying security forces during times of natural disasters such as tropical cyclones, which the highly country is prone to. Moreover, the commander-in-chief may take over the government under certain circumstances.
Dramatic political change in Myanmar is doubtful over the coming years. What may be more realistic is a drawn-out game of wits, concessions and compromises to slowly prepare the military for an eventual exit from politics, but certainly in no time soon. “There are so many negatives with the last government, but the NLD will have to negotiate with them,” says Ye Mon Wunna, a 24-year-old marketing professional in Yangon. “We can’t tell them to give back everything they have stolen and stop dealing with our resources. We need to use a win-win policy,” he says.
If one thing is for certain, it’s that the general election reconfirmed that Suu Kyi, respectfully known as “The Lady,” is still widely loved by the people of Myanmar. Yet, political transgressions in recent years have created some cases of doubt to arise, especially among the countries numerous and diverse ethnic minority groups, which account for about 40 percent of Myanmar’s population. Suu Kyi has faced criticism, bother domestically an internationally, for her choice of uneasy silence in the continued oppression of the Muslim Rohingya minority, who have been effectively made stateless by the Myanmar military.
She has also been blamed for the poor handling of polemics surrounding Chinese investment. In 2013, Suu Kyi received a hostile reception from locals protesting copper mine that would displace their homes. Suu Kyi faced accusations questioning whether her loyalty was with the people, or the mining company, a joint venture between the Myanmar military and the subsidiary of a Chinese arms manufacturer.
For the majority of the country, as the democratic polls show, Suu Kyi’s failings can be forgiven.
“The truth is, this is her time to save the country,” says Chan Chan, a 28-year-old Myanmar celebrity pop singer.
However, Suu Kyi is barred from standing as president by the constitution. Instead, she has announced that when political power transitions to NLD hands, she will “find someone” to stand in her place, a person with “no authority, “while she directs the president from the sidelines. Suu Kyi would be “a rose by another name,” the BBC reported the democracy icon as saying.
Such a statement, however, has aroused concerns over a lack of political transparency and culpability, but Suu Kyi has been quick to refute, saying that transparency will be of top priority. “It is her choice [to find a stand-in president],” says Chan Chan. “Maybe this idea is better for the country.”
When asked “Why do people love Aung San Suu Kyi,” Aung Thwin, a driver in Yangon, summed it up with one word: “sacrifice.” For many in this devotedly Buddhist nation, the rise of Suu Kyi to sainthood began in 1989, when she stared down the rifles of military, ignored their commands to stop advancing, and walked past them.
Whether or not Suu Kyi possesses the skills to transparently and effectively run a government of entrenched military strongmen is yet to be seen. But what is sure is that following this historic election, it will be the NLD’s response will have to carefully balance the interest of the people, while preventing a political backpedal to the violence associated with the days of junta rule.
“The USDP ruled by using authority for their benefit,” says Tin Mg Win. “Their party members are all like gangsters; they bully people to get their way. We need to not only be afraid of dictators but also the dictator’s sons.”
“This is not how it should be,” Win added. “A government needs to act as the servant of the people, not the other way around.”