The results of Myanmar’s first free election in 25 years are finally official, five days after voters went to the polls. The National League for Democracy, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, won a majority of seats in the 664-member parliament, giving the NLD a clear path to select the next president, who will then appoint a new Cabinet and other top posts.
Although Suu Kyi is ineligible to be president, she said last week that there was nothing in Myanmar’s constitution that said she couldn’t rule from an office “above the president.” Myanmar’s constitution bars anyone from the presidency who has foreign citizens in their immediate family. Suu Kyi’s two sons are British nationals, as was her late husband.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been moving toward a civilian-led government since the election of current President Thein Sein in 2011. Sein was a member of the military junta that had ruled Myanmar for decades; however, as president he led many reforms, including freeing prisoners, forging peace deals and relaxing censorship of the media.
Sein congratulated Suu Kyi’s party on the victory, as did army chief Min Aung Hlaing, who said the military would “do what is best in cooperation with the new government during the post-election period.”
In 1990, Myanmar’s opposition party also won the election, but at that time the military refused to hand over power. Now the ruling party is expected to cooperate.
As NPR’s Anthony Kuhn reports, the result of military rule in Myanmar was to “deepen the country’s isolation, as Western countries imposed sanctions and the country was increasingly seen as a pariah state. The generals’ new strategy of political reforms and freeing opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest has helped to get the sanctions off, even as the military retains an outsized influence in politics.”
The mood among Myanmar voters was jubilant even before the results of the election were clear. According to The New York Times:
“Those who voted Sunday said they felt a thrill knowing that their country might be guided by the will of the people after so many years of military domination. More than 32 million people were registered to vote.
” ‘This is the first time I have voted,’ said U Okkar Oo, a betel-nut seller in Yangon. ‘Of course I am excited.’ ”
President Obama has visited Myanmar twice in three years, hoping to count the democratization of the country among his foreign policy accomplishments. Obama called Suu Kyi to offer congratulations and to commend her “for her tireless efforts and sacrifice over so many years to promote a more inclusive, peaceful and democratic Burma.”