With Myanmar’s Election Commission having declared that the National League for Democracy has secured a majority in parliamentary elections, and with the party being on track ~ with votes still being counted ~ to improve its 2016 tally, the need for Ms Aung San Syu Kyi to address some of the contentious issues that plagued her party’s first spell in office has grown. Perhaps acknowledging this need, Ms Suu Kyi’s party has reached out to the country’s minority ethnic groups to end civil wars and strife in the wake of the electoral triumph.
In a letter written to 48 ethnic parties, the NLD said: “The ethnic parties’ objectives are the same as the NLD’s and the NLD would prioritise the ethnic’s desires in the future.” Given the events of the past five years, when relations between the NLD and ethnic groups had plummeted because of the stuttering pace of peace negotiations, this outreach is significant because it shows grace on the part of the ruling party in its moment of triumph.
Several ethnic parties had come together to take on the NLD in the election but failed to make much headway. But perhaps the most significant overture has been made by Myanmar’s powerful military to the Arakan Army, which had been labelled a terrorist group and kept out of peace negotiations. In response to an offer by the group to extend its unilateral ceasefire until 31 December while urging authorities to conduct elections that had been suspended in Rakhine state, the military has said it welcomes the decision and will make efforts to complete the process.
The election process was from most accounts relatively smooth, barring the allegation made by the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party of malpractice. Last week, the USDP had demanded that the elections be held again, this time under the supervision of the military. But the demand does not appear to have gained much traction, with even the military distancing itself.
The military chief, Min Aung Hlaing, while casting his ballot on November 8, had pledged that he would “accept people’s wishes” and at least so far there is no evidence of a change in his position despite the USDP having faced reverses in seats it considered safe.
The Election Commission has dismissed these allegations and confirmed there would be no election re-run. With the decks thus cleared for smooth governance, barring of course the constitutional impediments that the NLD must face such as a quarter of parliamentary seats being allocated to the military and having no control over home affairs, defense and border affairs, Ms Suu Kyi must focus her energies on addressing several issues outstanding from her first term in power.
This must include an acceptable and permanent solution to the Rohingya problem following the ethnic cleansing of 2017 which forced this minority Muslim community to seek refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh and provoked outrage around the world.