Despite many restrictions imposed by the ruling United Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), a political outfit serving as the civilian façade of the army, the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) headed by Aung San Suu Kyi swept the polls. The overwhelming verdict of the people went against the USDP. In the Lower House of Parliament (House of Representatives) out of the total 330 elective seats, the NLD won 225 and the USDP a mere 30. Similarly, in the Upper House (House of Nationalities), out of the 224 elective seats, the NLD won 136 and the USDP just a dozen.

It should be kept in mind that in the Lower House, out of the total of 440 seats, as much as 25 per cent or 110 are reserved for army nominees. In the Upper House also, out of the total 224 seats, 20 per cent or 56 seats are filled by the army. If these seats were de-reserved, the extent of NLD victory would be much bigger. Suu Kyi is constitutionally debarred from running for the presidency. However, there is speculation that she may contest the speaker’s post.

There is no doubt that after the landslide victory of the NLD the army, hitherto ruling in the name of USDP, will be forced to yield more democratic space to the civil society. For democracy to be fully and speedily restored in Myanmar, the constitution has to be amended, doing away with the arbitrary reservation of seats for army nominees in both houses of parliament. Also, the constitutional provision that disqualifies Suu Kyi from becoming the country’s president has to be done away with. A new, democratic constitution has to be drafted, replacing the current army-framed constitution.

There are some tricky questions in the post-election scenario. The first, of course, is the election of the new president. Will the army, which has 25 and 20 reserved seats respectively in the two houses of parliament, allow fair and free elections to be held? Suu Kyi has already made her intention abundantly clear in this regard. In a press interview she said she would be ‘above the president’. She clarified by stating that if she was required to field a candidate for the presidency who would fulfil the constitutional requirements, she would find someone “but that won’t stop me from making all the decisions as the leader of the winning party.”

Another problem for her will be winning over the Buddhist clergy. The clergy is now supporting the army and is dead against giving voting right to the Muslims. The clergy, whose political clout in Myanmar has increased, is implacably hostile to Suu Kyi. In its opinion she is ‘not fit to govern’. Then there is the problem of giving voting rights to the Rohingya Mualims. The Buddhist clergy is up against them. In fact the Rohingyas were given voting rights in February this year. But faced with the anger of the clergy, the Government hastily backtracked and took away their voting rights the very next day.

While the entire democratic world has welcomed the victory of the NLD, China seems to have some reservations about it. Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China (CPC), has already issued a warning to the yet-to-be-formed new government. Myanmar, the paper said, should not move closer to the US, clearly showing where its sympathies lie. In its opinion, such a move would be ‘witless’ because it ‘would ruin the strategic space and resources it can obtain from China’s amicable polices’. It reminded the Myanmar leaders that “China has been strategically magnanimous and kind” (to Myanmar).

South Block has to craft its Myanmar policy imaginatively keeping in mind the sensitivities of all the stakeholders in that country. This becomes more important now as the relations with some of our neighbours are not as good as they should be. Beijing’s hostile reaction to post-election Myanmar is an advantage for India. The possibility of widening economic cooperation with Myanmar should be fully explored. Irritants in mutual relations (like the raid on a rebel Naga camp in Myanmar in June) should be carefully avoided.

While befriending Suu Kyi and her NLD, New Delhi should not antagonize the army also because it will continue to be a powerful factor in the country’s politics for quite some time, even if it has conceded defeat to Suu Kyi. In the developing geopolitics in Asia today, Myanmar will play a major role. We cannot afford to alienate it as we had done in the past. (IPA Service)