By Joshua Lipes
Early results from Myanmar’s historic general elections over the weekend suggest an overwhelming win for Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, prompting officials from the country’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) to concede defeat Monday.
According to official results from Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC), the NLD has won 49 of first 54 seats announced for parliament’s lower house, where 330 of 440 seats were up for grabs in Sunday’s polls—the first deemed free in the country in a quarter of a century.
The USDP won three of the seats, while the ethnic Wa Democratic Party won one and the ethnic Kachin Democratic Party won another.
While many results have yet to trickle in—particularly from the country’s remote border regions—USDP party chair Htay Oo acknowledged defeat Monday.
“In the first free and fair election in 25 years, in the November 8 election I have to confess that the USDP has lost to the NLD. We will accept this result,” he said, according to media reports.
An unofficial count from the NLD suggested the opposition would capture 70 percent of contested seats in parliament—more than the two-thirds it needs to form a government. Under the constitution, drafted by the former junta regime in 2008, 25 percent of seats are reserved for military appointees.
“They must accept the results, even though they don’t want to,” NLD spokesman Win Htein told Reuters news agency, adding that in central Myanmar, the opposition was poised to take more than 90 percent of seats.
Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday urged NLD supporters and candidates to remain “calm” and exercise caution in the aftermath of the party’s apparent election victory.
“I believe you all know that we need to be cautious and to stay calm to move forward,” she told hundreds of people who had gathered outside NLD headquarters in Yangon to celebrate. “One can never be over-cautious,” she said.
“I cannot say much now because official results have not yet come out,” Aung San Suu Kyi said. “What I want to say is stay calm and peaceful.”
Results have been counted in four regions as of Monday, with a further 10 yet to be announced. A final count may take several days or even weeks.
If the early results hold true for the rest of the country, the NLD will form Myanmar’s first democratically-elected government since the early 1960s.
President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government ended five decades of military rule in the country in 2011 when it took power following general elections a year earlier that the NLD boycotted amid concerns they were neither free nor fair.
The NLD had swept the previous election in 1990, but the then-ruling junta ignored the results and placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for more than a decade.
The USDP campaigned on a platform of demonstrated reform, which it has ushered in since assuming control of the country, but remains closely aligned with the military. Htay Oo had predicted that the USDP would win as much as 80 percent of the vote as recently as Friday, despite widespread expectations of an NLD victory.
Sunday’s vote passed without major incident and was widely praised by international observers. Some estimates put the turnout at around 80 percent of eligible voters.
The U.S. State Department also commended Myanmar on its polls, which Secretary of State John Kerry called “peaceful and historic,” and “one step closer to [building] a democracy that respects the rights of all” in a statement released Sunday.
But he acknowledged that the vote was “far from perfect” and noted remaining “structural and systemic impediments” to the realization of a full democratic and civilian government in Myanmar, including the reservation of parliamentary seats for the military, voter disenfranchisement of ethnic groups such as the Rohingya Muslims, and the disqualification of candidates based on citizenship requirements.
Kerry said that a peaceful post-election period is crucial for stability and maintaining confidence in the electoral process, and pledged U.S. support for the people of Myanmar in their pursuit of democracy going forward.
Sunday’s election does not immediately produce a new national leader, because Myanmar’s president is elected by parliament, not by popular vote.
The upper house, the lower house, and the military bloc in parliament put forward one presidential candidate each. The combined houses vote on the three candidates, which do not have to be elected members of parliament. The winner becomes president and forms a government, the losers become vice presidents with largely ceremonial responsibilities.
The vote on the presidency will take place after the new members take their seats in both houses of parliament in February. The president will assume power by the end of March.
Aung San Suu Kyi cannot become the country’s president under Myanmar’s constitution, drafted by the former military regime in 2008. In a measure that appears specifically designed to thwart the 70-year-old Nobel peace laureate, the junta-written constitution bars her from taking the highest office because her late husband and sons hold foreign citizenship.
Moreover, while the president forms a cabinet, the military controls three of the most powerful ministries—those in charge of the interior, defense and border security.