Burma’s president congratulates Suu Kyi as count continues

Opposition leader seeks talks with Thein Sein and military as election landslide in sight

Burma's president Thein Sein congratulated democratic champion Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday, as her party appeared to have trounced the ruling camp in the first free election in 25 years and inched towards an absolute majority in parliament.

Thein Sein reiterated that the government would accept the results of the election and agreed to Ms Suu Kyi’s request to hold reconciliation talks soon, although the two are still to agree on the time and location of the negotiations.

Ms Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) has won more than 80 per cent of the seats declared so far in the lower house and is well ahead in the upper house and regional assemblies. If the final results confirm the trend, Ms Suu Kyi’s triumph will sweep out an old guard of former generals that has run Burma (Myanmar) since the junta handed over power to Thein Sein’s semi-civilian government in 2011.

“Congratulations ... to the chairperson Aung San Suu Kyi and her party for gathering the support of the people,” read a statement posted on the Facebook page of the presidential spokesman. “The government will respect and follow the people’s choice and decision, and work on transferring power peacefully according to the timetable,” said the statement, adding that the president would work with “all other people” to ensure stability in the post-election period.


Reconciliation talks

Ms Suu Kyi has also invited the powerful army chief to hold reconcilitation talks, but he has yet to respond to the letter. The armed forces continue to wield considerable power in Burma’s political institutions, under a constitution drafted before the end of nearly 50 years of rule.

It is unclear how Ms Suu Kyi and the generals will work together. “It is very important for the dignity of the country and to bring peace of mind to the people,” Ms Suu Kyi said in the letter.

Relations between Ms Suu Kyi and armed forces chief Min Aung Hlaing are said to be strained.

One of the biggest sources of tension between Ms Suu Kyi and the military is a clause in the constitution barring her from the presidency because her children are foreign nationals.

Few doubt the military inserted the clause to rule her out.

While her letters seek conciliation, Ms Suu Kyi has become increasingly defiant on the presidential clause as the scale of her victory has become apparent.

She has made it clear she will run the country regardless of whom the NLD elects as president and described the constitution as “very silly”.

“We’ll find one,” she told the BBC in an interview on Tuesday, referring to her choice of president. “But that won’t stop me from making all the decisions as the leader of the winning party.”

Results so far gave Ms Suu Kyi’s party 134 of 149 seats declared out of the 330 seats not allocated to the military in the lower house. Under the junta-crafted constitution, a quarter of the seats in both chambers are unelected and reserved for the armed forces.

To form Burma’s first democratically elected government since the early 1960s, the NLD needs to win more than two-thirds of seats that were contested in parliament.

The NLD has said it is on course for more than 250 seats in the lower house, well above the 221 needed to control the chamber. Reuters was not able to independently verify the party’s estimates of its own performance.

Conceded defeat

The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), created by the junta and led by retired soldiers, has conceded defeat in a poll that was a major milestone on Burma’s rocky path from dictatorship to democracy.

Ms Suu Kyi also requested a meeting with former USDP chairman Shwe Mann, the lower house speaker. He lost his seat, but before the election had been seen as a presidential contender.

He antagonised the military while in parliament and built close ties to Ms Suu Kyi, arousing the suspicion of many in his party.

In addition to his bloc of parliament seats, the commander-in-chief nominates the heads of three powerful and big-budget ministries – interior, defence and border security.

The interior ministry gives him control of the pervasive bureaucracy, which could pose a significant obstacle to the NLD’s ability to execute policy.

Among other formidable challenges for Ms Suu Kyi is trying to put an end to decades of conflict with armed ethnic groups. Thein Sein failed to do that despite protracted talks that led to a ceasefire with some groups. The government's chief ceasefire negotiator, Aung Min, was among the heavyweight politicians that lost in the elections.

Sunday’s vote was Myanmar’s first freely contested general election since Thein Sein ushered in a period of reforms that prompted a partial lifting of international sanctions.

Final election results are due no later than two weeks after last Sunday’s poll.