By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
A year after a resounding victory of NLD in the general elections, the recently held by elections have some lessons for Suu Kyi.
Elections were held for 19 seats- 8 in Shan State, 5 in Yangon and one each in Chin, Mon, Karenni, Arakan, Pegu and Sagaing regions. The vacancies were caused mainly by seats vacated by the ministers and death of a few members. It is important to note that the seats were held mostly by the NLD led by Aung San Suu Kyi and were geographically and ethnically well spread.
Of these the NLD won 9, the Shan Nationalities League for democracy 6, the USDP 2, the All Nationalities’ Democratic Party 1 and the Arakan National Party 1.
In the Shan State, the NLD lost 7 of the 8 states and some analysts have described NLD’s defeat as a “rout.” What has been unsaid is that the NLD retained most of its seats in the majority Bamar regions.
The current election is different from the last general elections in many respects.
- For the NLD, the last elections were fought on the premise NLD first and the candidate second. In the present case the candidates, their ability and performance did matter.
- While there was a massive turn out for the general elections, the enthusiasm of the people was noticed, the turn out this time particularly in the majority Bamar areas was not so enthusiastic.
- This leads to the view that the last elections as one analyst had said- was a kind of referendum with the choice between the old regime and the new one led by Suu Kyi. People obviously threw out the old regime decisively with high expectation from Suu Kyi and her NLD. The results showed that while the NLD was not rejected- people had shown their disappointment even from the majority Bamar areas.
Suu Kyi had been in power for just one year and it is too early to judge her performance by the very first by elections. But what is clear is that the ethnic regions that voted overwhelmingly for her in the General Elections have now placed their faith in regional ethnic entities. The trend is clear. The dilemma for Suu Kyi is how to keep the faith of the majority of Bamars while at the same time reach out to the ethnic minorities who have long been affected by conflicts and poverty?
Of the three priorities of Suu Kyi, national reconciliation was the foremost followed by economic transformation and constitutional changes. The offensive started by the Army soon after the last Panglong Conference is continuing with greater vigour. The economy is yet to pick up and investments from abroad are yet to reach the desired levels. There is yet no hope of any constitutional change.
There appears to be many forces eager to erode the popularity and personal charisma of Suu Kyi. There is also a feeling within her party that decisions are not taken in a transparent manner. It is said that while the previous regime was autocratic, the present one is undemocratic. The killing of U Ko Ni the adviser to Suu Kyi who is a constitutional expert and one who is said to have suggested the new role for Suu Kyi as State Councillor, in a public place in broad day light by other vested interests is a serious issue that cannot be ignored. The unnecessary hype and internationalisation of Rohingiya problem also needs careful attention. The breaking away of 88 Generation – those who had sacrificed tremendously to form another party and contest the next elections is a pointer to the disenchantment of the old faithfuls.
In all, the tasks before Suu Kyi are formidable. With the Army still unrelenting, her cautious reaction as one saw in the BBC interview was understandable. But still there are lessons to be learnt from the by elections.