YANGON, Myanmar – The party of Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi swept the elections on Sunday and won more seats than it needed to form a government, as she will be able to revalidate her mandate after five years in power.
The National League for Democracy (LND) has already won 368 seats in parliament, which gives it a comfortable majority to appoint the next parliament without requiring votes from representatives of other parties. It needed a minimum of 322, as the country’s Electoral Committee reported Friday, prior to finishing the count.
Following her victory in the 2015 elections – after the transition that began in 2010 into a “disciplined democracy,” according to the military that had ruled the country for half a century – Suu Kyi was criticized internationally for her policies against the Rohingya minority. Sunday’s elections show however, that her popularity has not diminished in the country.
In any case, even if the NLD governs alone, as it did after the 2015 elections, it will run into the political limitations imposed by the powerful military.
The military reserves 166 – 25% – of parliamentary seats, in accordance with the Constitution it drafted and approved in 2008, which gives it the right of veto to modify charter, and also retains the ministries of interior and defense, among other powers.
The system ensures that, even with a victory for a party such as the NLD, famous for its fight against the military junta during the dictatorship, the Army retains considerable power. Unsurprisingly, the head of the Armed Forces, Min Aung Hlaing, gave his approval to the elections Sunday when he said after voting that the “results of the elections must be accepted, that is undeniable.”
The big loser in the elections, with 24 seats, was the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the main opposition formation, created by the military junta that ruled Myanmar during the last two decades of the dictatorship and held power between 2011-2015.
On Wednesday, when the recount already gave the NLD a clear advantage, the USDP declared that it refused to accept the results, accused the NLD of electoral fraud and demanded that the elections be repeated, this time supervised by the armed forces.
However, the Carter Center – an organization created by former US President Jimmy Carter that sent observers on Election Day – issued a statement Tuesday saying “voters were able to express their will freely at the polls and elect their representatives.” It did however criticize the constitutional system and the denial of the vote to some ethnic minorities.
The great unknown of the elections was the vote of the ethnic minorities living in the peripheral areas of the country, many of them war zones between the Myanmar Army and ethno-nationalist guerrillas fighting for their autonomy since the country’s independence in 1948 in some conflicts that Suu Kyi has not been able to resolve.
Due to these conflicts, the elections were canceled in 51 constituencies, predominantly inhabited by members of minorities, leaving 22 legislative seats vacant.
Most of these districts are in the state of Arakan (in the west), the scene for two years of the fierce war between the Armed Forces and the ethno-nationalist guerrilla of the Arakan Army, which is fighting for the autonomy of the Rakhine ethnic group, predominantly Buddhist and a majority in the state.
Arakan is the only state in the country in which a regional formation has resoundingly triumphed, where the National Party of Arakan has obtained more votes than the NLD, eight to four.
However, the victory of the PNA does not allow it to appoint the governor of its own state, since that prerogative belongs to the central government and, after her victory in 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi appointed a governor of her party, despite her Arakanese rivals having obtained an absolute majority.
In any case, Suu Kyi’s formation sent a conciliatory letter to 49 ethno-nationalist parties on Thursday in which it stated that “the ultimate objective of the ethnic parties and the NLD is the same, which is to achieve a democratic federal union, so the NLD believes that these parties will collaborate enthusiastically to achieve this.”
Those excluded from these elections have been the Rohingya, to whose citizenship was taken away by the government in the early 1990s and for decades has subjected them to a regime of discrimination, considering them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite having lived in the country for generations.
The predominantly Muslim Rohingya in a country with a Buddhist majority were no longer able to vote in the 2015 elections, and this time will not be able to either, while authorities rejected candidacies of five of them, members of the Party for Democracy and Human Rights.
“The exclusion of the Rohingya in the elections is clear proof of discrimination, suppression and segregation. Therefore, it is not possible to recognize the elections in Myanmar (as Myanmar is also known) as free, fair, inclusive and credible,” the party said in an election day statement.