Burma election: Generals must step aside

Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy have won a famous victory on a scale that should provide them with a substantial majority in parliament

 

There is little doubt that, although counting is continuing, Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) have won a famous victory on a scale that should provide them with a substantial majority in Burma’s (Myanmar’s) parliament. There is little doubt too that the vote represents a massive mandate for change, for democratic values and for an end to repression and military rule, or rule by its proxies.

Where there is doubt still is whether the generals will cede power. In 1990 they simply ignored Suu Kyi’s election victory, put her under a 15-year house arrest, and continued their 50-year brutal rule. In 2011 they ceded power formally to former brother officers who had put aside their uniforms to give a veneer of civilian rule. However, the initial signs in the last few days have been good – the latter have conceded defeat to the NLD, though clearly bewildered at the people’s choice.

But the army itself remains the power in the land, economically through control of business empires, and politically, its ranks permeating the state apparatus. It is guaranteed by the constitution a quarter of the seats in parliament and three key security-related cabinet positions.

Suu Kyi has sought a meeting with commander in chief, Gen Min Aung Hlaing, to discuss “national reconciliation”. It will not be an easy. “This was not an election of a government,” historian and adviser to the last government Thant Myint-U told the New York Times ominously. “It was an election for a spot in a shared government with the army.” That is not how the NLD or the international community sees it.

The NLD’s charismatic leader has also made clear that she will not be constrained by the restrictions imposed on her by the army’s constitution which denies her even the right to stand for president next year. She insists she will serve above the president. “The president will be told exactly what he can do,” she told a television interviewer this week. “I make all the decisions, because I am the leader of the winning party.” Hlaing is certain to take issue – how he does will be a measure of whether times have really changed.

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