Myanmar: The General Elections And After – Analysis
By C. S. Kuppuswamy
The General Elections were held on Sunday the 8th November 2015. Elections were held for the lower house, the upper house and the fourteen state/ regional assemblies. For security reasons, elections were not held in some townships in the Shan State and in some areas where the fighting continues in Northern Myanmar.
It was estimated that 33 million people (out of the country’s population of 51 million) were eligible to vote. Though the turnout was considered very high, there is no official notification of the actual turnout.
A total of 1171 seats (330 for the lower house 168 for the upper house and 673 for the regional assemblies) were up for grabs. A total of 6189 candidates from 92 political parties and 323 independents contested in the election.
This was considered as the first credible election held in the country after 1990 though Aung San Suu Kyi remarked that the elections were “free but not fair”. This was also the first time when there were more than 10000 observers from both domestic and internal organisations that had monitored the elections.
Though the main opposition party National League for Democracy (NLD) under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi was the most favourite party and was expected to emerge as the leading party, it had done exceedingly well to gain over 75% in the parliament. It has also dominated the seven (Bamar majority) regional parliaments though it had not fared so well in the seven ethnics predominant states.
The ruling party, Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which had over 75% of the seats in the current parliament, could only manage to win about 10% of the seats in the parliament and fared poorly in the state assemblies except in the Shan State where they had gained more seats than the NLD.
The plethora of ethnic parties in the various states had fared much below the expectations except for the Arakan National Party which had secured 22 of the 47 seats in the Arakan state.
The Union Election Commission (UEC) took an unduly long time in declaring the results and the final tally was announced only on 20 November 2015. As per this official declaration the results are as under:
The rest of the parties have secured a total of 5 or less than 5 seats.
Some of the prominent losers in this election were U Thura Shwe Mann, the speaker of the parliament (earlier tipped for the presidency), Htay oo, the Chairman of the USDP, Aung Min, the minister in charge of the peace process and U Hla Shwe of the Myanmar Peace Centre.
The next President
Though the elections were held on November 8, 2015, the new parliament will be convened only in January 2016 and the President will be elected in March 2016 by an electoral college consisting of the newly elected members of the lower house and upper house and the non-elected army representatives to these two houses. The President then forms the new cabinet.
However this long transition period is going to witness hectic political activity and there is a general apprehension on the likely reaction of the army for this landslide victory of the opposition.
The NLD has secured the required member of seats in both houses to ensure that its candidate becomes the President. Since Aung San Suu Kyi is disqualified to become the President under Section 59 (f) of the 2008 Constitution (as her late husband and two children are British Citizens), she has no option but to nominate a proxy president from her party. The chances for amending the constitution by the new parliament to enable her to become the President are also remote.
Hence there is a lot of speculation as to who is to going to be the President elect?
Aung San Suu Kyi, has however indicated in a number of press interviews that she is going to be the “leader of that government whether or not I’m the President”. Her utterings to this effect has triggered a debate as to how and whether it will work out?
Reactions of the Government and the Army
Prior to the elections as well as after the resounding victory of the NLD, President Thein Sein and the Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing have repeatedly said that they will honour the results and there will be a smooth transition of power to the next government.
Once it became evident that the NLD has swept the poll, Aung San Suu Kyi called for a meeting with President Thein Sein, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and the parliamentary speaker U Thura Shwe Mann for talks on “national reconciliation”. Though the speaker met her on 19 November 2015, the President and C-in-C are yet to give her a date for such a meeting.
“Responding to doubts about the current government’s willingness to hand over the reins, outgoing presidential spokesman Ye Htut said President Thein Sein had every intention of setting a “good precedent” for the country’s young democracy, calling a peaceful power transfer his administration’s “last victory”.” (The Irrawaddy 20 Nov. 2015)
The reactions of the army are yet to manifest in any explicit manner. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing had in an earlier interview reiterated that the army’s role in politics would continue irrespective of which party is in power. However going by past history, people are sceptic as to whether the army will allow a smooth transition of power to NLD.
Reactions of Ethnic Groups
Prior to the elections some of the ethnic groups had hoped for an electoral arrangement with the NLD for seat sharing in the ethnic controlled areas. The NLD did not opt for any such arrangement and it was felt that the party may not fare well in ethnic dominated areas. The NLD had still swept the polls in most ethnic controlled areas.
The United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) a coalition of ethnic parties which had also fared well in the 1990 elections had called for a meeting with NLD for political collaboration.
The Ethnic Armed Groups have also expressed hopes that with the NLD at the helm, the peace process will be more meaningful and help in establishing a federal state.
Reactions of the International Community
Congratulatory messages have poured in from most of the nations. Aung San Suu Kyi had met on 19 November 2015 with the diplomats of more than 40 foreign missions in Myanmar. The Irrawaddy (20 Nov. 2015) reported that there were “a lot of pledges of support from Ambassadors to make the transition and the new government work”. Japanese PM Shinzo Abe while expressing his congratulations has invited Aung San Suu Kyi to visit Japan at an early date. Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia while inaugurating the ASEAN Summit on 21 Nov. 2015 had also congratulated Myanmar for the successful conduct of the elections.
Challenges for the new Government
The most formidable challenge is going to be as to how Aung San Suu Kyi is going to administer the country without being the head of the state as authorised by the constitution.
The onus will be on her to carry forward the peace process to end the six decades old civil war. The so called Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement initiated by Thein Sein has been signed by only 8 Ethnic Armed Groups. The major armed groups have not signed and all the ethnics are looking up to her to meet their demands and establish a federal union.
Despite the resounding victory, the constitution cannot be amended without some support from the army which is most unlikely.
The establishment of the rule of law for which she was responsible as a committee head in the outgoing government is another major issue which she had taken up in her campaigns. As of now the judiciary which is controlled by the executive has to be made independent.
With some key ministers appointed by the army, maintaining a harmonious relationship with the Tatmadaw is going to be a tricky and uphill task.
With a host of army backed crony companies having a strong hold on the economy of the nation, implementation of economic reforms, poverty eradication and corruption are also major challenges.
The elections went off peacefully and the people were highly motivated to cast their votes and turned out in large numbers.
The people of Myanmar have unanimously opted for “change” which she had promised throughout her campaign and have conveyed their total faith in her. The vote is more for her than the NLD. The vote is also against the long military regime in some form or other.
None of the pre-poll predictions indicated a landslide victory for the NLD though most of them predicted that NLD will be the leading party.
The media had often highlighted the odds such as, the Buddhist monk’s campaign against her, her ambivalent attitude towards the peace process and the ethnic groups, her silence on the Rohingya issue and her authoritative style of running the party. It is an achievement for her to get such a resounding victory against these odds.
The intervening period between now and January 2016 when the new government takes over and March 2016 when the new President will be sworn in is too long and peculiar to this country. With 1990 in the background there is a lot of uncertainty and suspense as to how the outgoing government and the Army are going to react during this period. Interestingly President Thein Sein at the on-going ASEAN Summit committed that power will be transferred to the victorious party.
The chances of a constitutional amendment prior to March 2016 to help her assume the presidency are remote.
Aung San Suu Kyi seems confident that there cannot be a repeat of 1990 and that her party will be in power in March 2016.