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Jakarta Post

What next for Myanmar after election?

  • Adhi Priamarizki

    The Jakarta Post

Kyoto, Japan   /   Sat, November 14, 2015   /  04:02 pm

The general election held in Myanmar on Nov. 8 was indeed successful and peaceful. Indonesia congratulated Myanmar for the democratic event through an official statement from the Foreign Ministry.

Although the vote recapitulation is not yet over, Aung San Suu Kyi'€™s National League for Democracy (NLD) looks set to win a majority of the votes cast. The latest information confirms that Suu Kyi will retain her rural constituency seat of Kawhmu, a town in Yangon region. Furthermore, the incumbent United Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has conceded its defeat to the opposition NLD. President U Thein Sein has also congratulated the NLD for '€œleading the race for parliamentary seats'€.

Winning the election will not give Suu Kyi a red carpet to become the next Myanmar president. The NLD mathematically needs to secure 67 percent of the contested seats to form a government without coalitions as the military will automatically gain 25 percent of the total seats both in the lower house (Pyithu Hluttaw) and upper house (Amyotha Hluttaw).

The military thus continues to have considerable political power in the parliament. Forming a Cabinet without coalitions seems difficult for Suu Kyi and her party.

Suu Kyi herself is unable to run as a presidential candidate due to Article 3 no. 59 (F) of the Myanmar Constitution that says the president must be someone who does not, and whose parents, spouse, legitimate children or their spouses do not owe allegiance to a foreign power.

As her sons hold foreign passports, it will be impossible for Suu Kyi to seek the presidency. She said she will appoint someone who will work under her supervision in order to get around this barrier.

Based on the Myanmar constitution, it is possible for the military to take over the government under certain circumstances. The military will have Cabinet minister positions as Defense, Home Affairs and Border Affairs ministers as those positions must be nominated by the commander in chief of the armed forces, based on Article 5, no. 232 (b) (ii) of the constitution.

The Myanmar constitution also demands the president must be well acquainted not only with political, administrative and economic, but also with military issues.

These propositions provide a guarantee for the military to stay in politics whatever the election results. The military in addition holds crucial positions in many holding companies, which strengthen their political influence.

Suu Kyi seems aware of these mounting challenges as she is eager to open a dialogue with the army chief as well as President Thein Sein. This initiative indeed is a good opportunity to ensure political stability following the elections. Even though it is unclear how the dialogue will go, the option of forming an alliance with the military is still on the table.

In the 1990 election, the military rejected the election result and annulled the NLD'€™s landslide victory. Suu Kyi and the NLD should learn to avoid such things occurring in the aftermath of this year'€™s election.

Failure to reach an agreement with the military may heavily compromise the NLD'€™s anticipated landslide victory due to potential political deadlock. Suu Kyi could still nominate a proxy presidential candidate.

However, establishing a surrogate president will create inefficiency for the next government. This person would need approval and guidance from Suu Kyi, even though on paper the president has the authority to make policies.

Moreover, the three ministers from the military in the Cabinet could create havoc for the next government if no deal is sealed. Such a scenario may only occur if the military does not intervene, and accepts the NLD'€™s anticipated landslide victory.

A notable scholar on Southeast Asian politics, Donald K. Emmerson in 2012 argued three possible scenarios to explain political change in Myanmar.

First, the army leadership realizes the necessity of change to cope with the modern world.

Second, the country'€™s military generals hope to trade '€œMyanmar'€™s pseudo-socialist autarky for a personally lucrative version of crony capitalism'€. The third point is a nationalist pushback against overdependence on China.

These explanations should be considered in understanding the recent political dynamics and the upcoming situation in Myanmar politics. Based on these points, political change in Myanmar is heavily influenced by the decision-making within the ruling regime. Therefore, cooperating with the military could be a crucial maneuver to ensure a smooth political transition.

The general election also provides leverage for Myanmar'€™s democracy, which is a crucial element in the success of the ASEAN Community grand plan. Myanmar has shown that it can handle its complex domestic affairs without creating a significant political brouhaha. It is also a good opportunity for Indonesia to play its role as ASEAN'€™s natural leader to promote Myanmar'€™s democracy to a higher level under the regional institution'€™s frameworks.

Indonesia'€™s democratic experience should be Jakarta'€™s paramount asset in making such a move. Exchanging ideas on democracy between the two countries could benefit both Indonesia and Myanmar as it will reinforce Indonesia'€™s role in ASEAN as well as solidifying Myanmar'€™s democracy.

Besides the election, Myanmar still has a great deal of issues to be resolved, such as deep ethnic divisions, unresolved border problems and sectarian strife.

Nevertheless, Myanmar has entered a new stage by conducting a successful and peaceful general election.


The writer is a PhD student at Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto. The views expressed are his own.

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