President vows smooth handover after Suu Kyi victory

Supporters of Myanmar's National League for Democracy shout slogans outside the NLD headquarters in Yangon, Myanmar. Picture: AP
Supporters of Myanmar's National League for Democracy shout slogans outside the NLD headquarters in Yangon, Myanmar. Picture: AP
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Myanmar’s president has vowed to abide by the law to ensure a smooth transition to a new government next year, after his ruling party was trounced in the general election.

President Thein Sein, whose Union Solidarity and Development Party lost by a landslide to the National League for Democracy of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, spoke with the leaders of more than 70 political parties to discuss the period before power is handed over early next year when the new Parliament is seated.

Winning the election turned out to be easier than expected for Aung San Suu Kyi and her opposition party, but steering the country will be a test of how she balances her moral vision with political realities.

Almost complete returns released by the Election Commission yesterday showed Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy with a huge majority that gives it control of the lower and upper houses of Parliament, along with enough votes to dictate who will be president when the new lawmakers convene their first session next year.

“The election result represents the people’s retribution against the military, which kept them under its boots for decades,” said Aung Din, a former political prisoner and prominent journalist.

He added that the extent of Suu Kyi’s victory stunned everyone - the NLD, the military and the world’s foremost experts on Myanmar like himself.

Myanmar was under military rule from 1962 until 2011, when the elected but army-backed party took power after 2010 elections, which were boycotted by the NLD.

With the military automatically allotted 25 per cent of the seats in each chamber, the NDL had to win two-thirds of the seats being contested to get the majority - not just 50 per cent plus one. It met its mark easily. By yesterday morning, it had won about 78 per cent of the combined houses - 387 of the 498 non-military seats.

Suu Kyi won points in the past by confronting the military, but now that they will be partners in ruling the country, she will need the generals on her side in order to push through her party’s agenda.

At the same time, she has to meet the huge expectations of her supporters for dramatic reforms. “How will the public perceive her after she had to make compromises with political players that are deeply disliked and mistrusted?” asked Michael Buehler, a lecturer in Southeast Asian politics at the University of London.

“Can she remain the country’s moral authority now that she has to make politics?”

In some areas this may be easy, in others she will be up against vested interests willing to fight her.