Mon, Nov 16, 2015 - Page 4 News List

Real challenge for Aung San Suu Kyi begins


Winning Myanmar’s election turned out to be easier than expected for Aung San Suu Kyi and her opposition party, but steering the nation is to be a test of how the Nobel Peace Prize laureate balances her moral vision with political realities.

Almost complete returns released by the election commission yesterday showed Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) with an astounding majority that gives it control of the lower and upper houses of Myanmar’s parliament, along with enough votes to dictate who is to 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,” former political prisoner and prominent journalist Aung Din said, adding that the extent of Aung San Suu Kyi’s victory stunned everyone — the NLD, the military and the world’s foremost experts on Myanmar like himself.

With the military automatically allotted 25 percent of the seats in each chamber, the NLD had to win two-thirds of the seats being contested to get the majority — not just 50 percent plus one. It met its mark easily. By yesterday morning, it had won about 78 percent of the combined houses — 387 of the 498 non-military seats, while the ruling military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party had just 41.

Aung San Suu Kyi won points in the past by confronting the military, but now that they are to be partners in ruling the nation, she would 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.

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

Factory workers are her faithful followers, but she might find it more important to appease factory owners — who would be unhappy with aggressive pro-labor policies — in order to keep the economy humming. Similarly, villagers uprooted by mining and infrastructure projects want justice that has been in short supply under the military-backed government. Meeting their desires could be off-putting to foreign investors. Cracking down on the pervasive problem of land-grabbing would also earn her powerful enemies.

Aung San Suu Kyi faces another dilemma in dealing with the nation’s deep and long-running ethnic fractures. More than a dozen ethnic minorities for decades have fielded guerrilla armies in on-again, off-again insurgencies to try to win greater autonomy.

In opposition, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party could count on many of these groups as allies, partly on the basis of the concept that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.”

Now, these groups would be looking to cash in their chips for sticking with her.

Another challenge is dealing with racial and religious strife involving the nation’s ethnic Rohingya minority and other Muslims. Communal violence over the past several years has left hundreds dead and as many as 140,000 people homeless.

The efforts of radical nationalist Buddhist monks to paint Suu Kyi as soft in defending the religion of about 90 percent of the nation’s population failed to have much of an effect on the election results.

For its part, the NLD did little to stand up for the rights of Myanmar’s Muslims and the issue remains a flash point domestically and a sore point with foreign friends such as the US.

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