NLD supporters have flooded the capital city Yangon like a red sea as Myanmar holds its first elections in 25 years. The NLD, led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, is predicted to win the elections by a landslide. Burmese citizens have placed high hopes that their next leader will end dictatorship and corruption in politics. But what are the other pressing issues for the next leader to tackle?
Approximately 30 million are eligible to vote, but there is an 80% turnout. Observers from the EU and the US Carter Centre praised the elections as a success and gave it a 95% approval rating. So far the party has secured 78 out of the 88 seats and it needs to secure 67% of the 664 parliamentary seats to win a majority.
“The times have changed, the people have changed,” Ms Suu Kyi said.
Will the opposition accept defeat?
Critics are concerned whether the opposition will honour the election results. The opposition, Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP), has admitted defeat. The party leader, Htay Oo, said: “We lost…we do accept the results without any reservations.” The comments were made after the NLD won all 12 upper house seats in Yangon, and 44 out of the 45 lower house seats.
However, Ms Suu Kyi is barred from becoming President because the Burmese constitution states if one of your “legitimate children owes allegiance to a foreign power” you cannot run for President. Furthermore, the constitution allows the military to retain 25% of all parliamentary seats.
Election frauds and corruption are familiar in Burmese politics. In 1990, the military junta ran an election for the first time in 30 years due to international pressure. The NLD won the elections, securing 392 of the 492 seats. However, the military did not accept their loss and subsequently jailed many NLD supporters and placed Ms Suu Kyi under house arrest.
The USDP has been in power since 2010 after the country transitioned from decades of military rule to civilian government. NLD boycotted the 2010 elections due to corruption and “unjust” election laws. They had reasons to doubt, because Thein Sein was re-elected as Party leader which conflicts with the 2008 Constitution of Burma:
“If the President or the Vice-Presidents are members of a political party, they shall not take part in its party activities during their term of office from the day of their election.”
What are the expectations of the new government?
Myanmar was under an oppressive military rule from 1962-2011. The country was labelled as a pariah state due to mass abuses of human rights and dictatorship. The military junta envisioned a self-sufficient economic system, the Burmese Way to Socialism, which eventually crippled the country with widespread poverty, isolation and economic stagnation.
Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in Asia even though it is rich with natural resources such as gas, oil, hardwoods and precious metals. Twenty-six percent of the population lives in poverty while 70% of civilians in rural areas live in deprivation. Further, two in five children under the age of five suffer from malnourishment. Myanmar is currently under economic sanctions imposed by the EU and it depends heavily on humanitarian aid for food security.
The new government will need to provide more employment opportunities, especially for those who live in the rural areas. The country relies highly on its agriculture, where 70% of the labour force counts on this sector for income. However, many farmers lack adequate technology, infrastructure and monetary support from the government to profit from this industry.
The forgotten people of Myanmar
Although the elections are largely praised internationally, yet the Rohingya Muslims are denied the opportunity to vote or run as election candidates. There are 1.3 million Rohingyas living in the Rakhine state; they are deprived, stateless, have no citizenship rights and are one of the most persecuted peoples in the world. Many have hoped Ms Suu Kyi can bring positive changes to for the Rohingyas, but Ms Suu Kyi has remained silent over this community’s plights.
Ethnic tensions in the country
Ongoing ethnic tensions have continued to destabilise the country. Groups such as the Kachin, Kayah, Shan and Karen ethnic groups have struggled for regional autonomy and the conflicts have left thousands of citizens displaced. During military rule, the government forced cultural, political and linguistic assimilation which provoked historical tensions between the Burman majority and other groups. However, Ms Suu Kyi has followed the footsteps of her father General Aung San in reaching out to these ethnic groups. There are good prospects of the NLD ending hostilities between the groups.
Decades of military dictatorship has driven the country into greater poverty while citizens suffered from oppression. Myanmar is plagued with many problems but the country’s success in the struggle for democracy is the first step towards hope and equality.