People of Myanmar Celebrate, Although Suu Kyi Can’t Be Their President

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Nov 09 2015
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Voters went to polling stations across Myanmar (formerly Burma) yesterday (Nov 8th) in festive mood. The people of Myanmar consider this as the country’s first free general election in 25 years. The last free vote was in 1990, when Suu Kyi won but the army ignored the result, and put Suu Kyi under house arrest for 20-year until her release in 2010.


If history is to repeat itself, the party of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi – National League for Democracy (NLD) – is expected to win the largest share of votes cast by an electorate of about 30 million, who chose from among thousands of candidates standing for parliament and regional assemblies.

Myanmar Election in 25 Years - National League for Democracy NLD party campaign poster on trishaw

Myanmar Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing

Military Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing claims that unlike the 1990 election where they deliberately threw away the results, the military would accept the peoples’ choice this time. But why should the people of Myanmar believe the military junta? They don’t, but after 5-decade of suppression and oppression the people are too hungry for democracy.


The military has done heavy fine tuning to the Myanmar version of democracy. This round, there’re a staggering 91 political parties contesting the election. Although the 70-year-old Nobel peace laureate is expected to win the largest share of votes, Suu Kyi can never become the new President of Myanmar, legally.

Aung San Suu Kyi with Husband Michael Aris Son Alexander

That’s because the current constitution has been deliberately written and designed in such way it bans citizens with foreign family members from the position, and coincidently Suu Kyi’s late husband was British and her two sons hold British passports. The military is also guaranteed 25% of the seats in the parliament as well as having a veto over legislation.


Suu Kyi, an existing Member of Parliament since 2012, is the daughter of the country’s independence hero, Aung San, who was assassinated just as the country was emerging from British colonial rule. Seen as a semi-deity among many of her followers and is often called “Mother Suu”, Suu Kyi must win two-thirds of the vote to secure a simple majority of the seats in Parliament.

Aung San Suu Kyi - background photo - father Aung San

Aung San Suu Kyi with General Min Aung Hlaing

Besides automatically owning 25% of parliamentary seats, the military junta also retains control over three key ministries that oversee the police, army, border affairs and a vast bureaucracy across the country under the country’s bias constitution. Through cronyism, the military has also ensured economy power via holding companies.


Last week, Suu Kyi said if her party won, she would run the government and be “above the president”, calling the constitution “silly”. But puppet President Thein Sein said the government and the military would “follow and respect the results of a free and fair election.” Still, many voters doubt the military would accept an overwhelming NLD victory.

Myanmar President Thein Sein

U Htay Oo - Chairman of Myanmar ruling USDP

Union Solidarity and Development Party (USPD), a political wing created and led by former retired military junta officers, clearly isn’t amused with Suu Kyi’s remarks. “The president is head of the country – no one is above the president. It would be violating the constitution to appoint and direct the president” U Htay Oo, the head of the party furiously declared.


Although international icon Suu Kyi’s NLD party is expected to make a clean sweep in urban areas such as Yangon, Mandalay and the capital, Naypyidaw, the real battle is in rural countryside. On the eve of the poll, the NLD said a suspiciously large number of extra voting tickets had been issued in some areas, with one family in Yangon getting 38.

Myanmar Election in 25 Years - Showing Voting Parties Option

On top of a pariah constitution, cheating and fraudulent are working against Suu Kyi and 51 million people of Myanmar. While her NLD party won 392 of the 492 available seats during 1990 election, there’re 59 parties from the 91 parties registered which represent ethnic or religious minorities. Hence, Suu Kyi can only win fewer seats this time.


The most important date to watch is March 31st, 2016 – the official date for a new President to come into power, assuming military’s USPD President Thein Sein would lose. Can Suu Kyi’s NLD work together with other minority parties and deliver more than two-thirds majority without making the military feels insulted of their defeat?

Norway Telenor Ads on Myanmar Tuk Tuk

There’s only one compelling reason why the military will hand over power if they lose – not to rock the boat of foreign direct investment. Myanmar’s FDI has soared to more than US$8 billion this fiscal year, US$3 billion more than anticipated, thanks to the lifting of Western embargoes. The amount is a staggering 25 times the US$329.6 million it received in 2009/2010, the year before the military ceded power.


In comparison, Thailand received US$11.8 billion in FDI last year while Vietnam and Cambodia attracted US$12.3 billion and US$4 billion respectively. Norway’s Telenor and Qatar’s Ooredoo launched Myanmar cellphone services last year while oil and gas exploration has seen US$277 million investment from Chevron’s Unocal.

Myanmar Election in 25 Years - Voters Celebrate 2

Myanmar Election in 25 Years - Voters Celebrate

With days to go before the official results are announced and with 25% of seats already in the bag, the military junta is almost guaranteed of a joint government with Suu Kyi, even if their effort in cheating rural seats does not work well in bringing in 33% of votes to form a simple majority government. Anyways, Myanmar’s people are happy for being able to vote, mostly, for the very first time in their life.


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