Myanmar's democratic transition

As dust settles from Myanmar's historic election, the real work for winners and losers starts now

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 November, 2015, 1:26am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 November, 2015, 1:26am

The impressive victory of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy in Myanmar's biggest democratic test in 25 years would seem a pivotal moment for the country's development.

There is no disputing that the election win is historic and that the governing party's acceptance of defeat further lessens the military's stranglehold on power. But as the euphoria winds down, the cold reality of the political challenges ahead will become obvious for the winners.

Even with a majority in parliament, their strategy will be less about setting agendas than negotiating and compromising.

Such a strategy would seem perplexing for the country's 23 million voters after a win that has given the NLD dominance of the 664 seats in parliament.

READ MORE: ‘We will respect the outcome’: Myanmar’s president Thein Sein insists junta will abide by the results of landmark elections

The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party has been left with no more than a few dozen, with powerful figures like its chairman and the parliamentary speaker toppled.

Both were high-ranking members of the junta that partly handed power to the semi-civilian government of Thein Sein four years ago, beginning the process of ending five decades of military rule and gradually ushering in democracy.

The scale of support for the NLD proved the overwhelming desire of voters for change.

But the constitution the military put in place ensures it retains a significant hold on politics. It guarantees the army 25 per cent of seats in parliament, authority over the key ministries of defence, home affairs and border control, and blocks Suu Kyi from the presidency.

READ MORE: Aung San Suu Kyi is barred from becoming president: four ways victory in Myanmar could turn sour

Thein Sein did not contest the elections and will stand down, but there is no certainty that the NLD will gain the presidency; both houses of parliament and the military will nominate candidates from which the leader will be chosen. These restrictions will be difficult for some people to accept.

But tackling the nation's considerable challenges and furthering democracy will require Suu Kyi and her party to work pragmatically within existing confines.

Apart from the presidency, thousands of positions have to be negotiated for the legislature, judiciary and bureaucracy.

Ensuring steady economic growth to ease poverty and improve health care and education are pressing issues, while much work remains to end conflicts with ethnic minorities.

The winners and losers of the election will take time to adjust to their new positions. All will not be smooth, making Suu Kyi's NLD leadership and experience working with the military crucial to ensuring the poll results can be translated into real benefits for Myanmar.