It’s a very exciting time in Myanmar. On Sunday November 8, Myanmar had its first free and fair elections in 25 years. Today, November 13, 2015 it has been confirmed that Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, has secured more than the required two-thirds of the contested seats in the parliament to win a majority.
A little bit of background
1960 was the last time Myanmar had multi-party elections. However, that was also when the military junta took power. In 1990, Myanmar also had elections, but when Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party won, the military ignored the votes and continued to rule. In 2010, another election was held, but it was considered to be rigged. At the time, Myanmar was under military rule and international sanctions. So the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and its ex-army officers won the majority of seats in the parliament. In 2011, the military party began to relinquish some of its power, allowing a nominally civilian government. In 2012, the NLD won 43 out of the 44 seats available and elected Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament (more on her to come). The people hoped this 2015 election would be fair, but there was some concern about military influence, the accuracy of voter lists (some dead people were on the list and some living ones weren’t!), and cancelled voting in conflict areas. “There are more than 6,000 candidates and 91 registered political parties vying for 498 seats for five-year terms.” However, the NLD and the USDP are the front-runners. USDP hopes to motivate voters with stability and the idea that change is risky. The current president is USDP member Thein Sein.
Myanmar’s legislature is called the Hluttaw and it has 2 chambers- the Lower House of Representatives and the Upper House of Nationalities. According to the constitution, 25% of the members of each house will be appointed by the head of the military (to roles like defense minister, home affairs minister, border minister).
These ministers have veto power if the rest of the legislature votes to change the constitution. After the elections, representatives from the legislature choose the president. TODAY it has been confirmed that the NLD has won 80% of the contested seats and will choose the next president. It could take up to 130 days for the transition between governments.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
By law, the NLD cannot elect Aung San Suu Kyi, in spite of her role in founding the NDL and her current role as a member of parliament. Article 59 was added to the constitution in 2008 stating that a Myanmar national who is married to a foreign citizen or whose children are foreigners cannot become president or vice president (Aung San Suu Kyi was married to a British historian and has 2 British sons). Aung San Suu Kyi says she will still lead the country, from “above the president.”
Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of General Aung San, an independence fighter who was assassinated in 1947 just before Myanmar’s independence from Britain (though then the country was still called Burma- the name was changed in 1989 by the military junta. fun fact). Aung San Suu Kyi lived in India, England, Bhutan and Japan before returning to Myanmar in 1988. She felt compelled to follow in her father’s footsteps. So she joined and led movements for democratic reform and free elections. She was famously under detention or house arrest for much of the time between 1989 and 2010. The military rulers didn’t appreciate her efforts to bring democracy to Myanmar. This made her a symbol of peaceful resistance to oppression. She has received numerous awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts.
Observations from Mandalay
My Myanmar friends have been very nervous for the last few weeks. They all feel very strongly about their country and its government. They ache for what they see as best to come to pass.
Leading up the election, there were warnings about possible violence and our school assured us that there is an evacuation plan to get us the airport and to Bangkok if necessary. My coworkers warned us not to go out after dark “just in case.”
In the streets, there has been an energy in the air as cars and trucks with posters plastered on the sides blast music to draw attention for their parties. On the day of the election, however, everything was quiet. Most shops were closed so everyone had time to vote. We could see lines outside the temples and school houses of voters. People emerged with smiles. Voting closed at 4. That night, large screens around town showed officials counting the votes. The crowds watching cheered for their party.
Voters’ pinkies were dipped in ink to show they had voted. The day after the vote, my co-teachers proudly held up their darkened little finger. My students also proudly informed us that their mommies and daddies had colored fingers too.
I was I was there today to congratulate the NLD supporters! (At the time of publishing this post, I was in Bangkok to go to the hospital for my stomach).
Quotes and photos come from: