Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's party prepare to take reins of power in Myanmar
November's historic election broke grip of military-backed party
Despite landslide win, challenges lie ahead for Suu Kyi's NLD party
It’s a day Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters have been waiting for for more than two decades.
The Nobel peace laureate and leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) will finally take her seat at the head of Myanmar’s government when the new parliament sits on Monday.
It comes 26 years after Suu Kyi won a substantial parliamentary majority in the parliamentary elections in 1990 – a result that was subsequently nullified – and two months after the NLD’s landslide victory in the 2015 vote.
On Friday, outgoing President Thein Sein pledged that members of the old government would “cooperate with the next government to bring peace and development to the country,” according to a statement on the president’s website.
“Whatever has been done during the past five years is aimed at the restoration of peace and tranquility,” the former military commander said, as parliament members marked their final day in office with karaoke and traditional dance.
Long fight for democracy
Suu Kyi spent much of the time between each of her election victories as a guarded prisoner in her own home in Yangon. While under house arrest, she became an international face of the fight for democracy, with U.N. Secretary Ban Ki Moon in 2012 calling her a “global symbol” of progress.
Suu Kyi’s release came after the election of President Thein Sein in March 2011.
Soon after taking power, Thein Sein set about opening the previously reclusive country to the international community.
His government freed hundreds of prisoners, including Suu Kyi, relaxed media censorship and started a peace process with warring ethnic militia, who have been fighting the central government for six decades.
As a result, sanctions were lifted, opening the country to international trade deals – and scrutiny.
Who will be president?
Despite leading the party that won the vote, Suu Kyi can not be president.
The country’s constitution – which the military is thought to have drafted with her in mind – bars anyone with children who are citizens of another country from becoming president. Both of Suu Kyi’s adult sons are British citizens.
Suu Kyi said before the vote that if the NLD won she would be “above the president.”
It’s yet to be seen who the party nominates for the presidential post.
While the NLD has an absolute majority in both houses of the parliament, the military holds 25% of the seats, limiting the power of the ruling party to make changes to the constitution.
What changes lie ahead?
Supporters hope that within the constraints imposed by the legacy of military rule, Suu Kyi’s NLD will succeed in improving human rights in a country that has long stifled personal freedoms.
Some reservations exist, however, about Suu Kyi’s position on the persecuted minority Rohingya population. Myanmar refuses to recognize them as Burmese citizens and is severely restricting their access to work, travel, healthcare and education. Many have fled on unseaworthy boats run by human traffickers. Others are languishing in impoverished camps in Myanmar.
The world is watching
In its most recent World Report, Human Rights Watch said that Myanmar’s elections were a high point in a year that saw overall human rights in the country stagnate.
Burmese people and the international community have high expectations that Suu Kyi’s government will reverse rights abuses and unjust laws, Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director said.
“The new government should urgently release political prisoners, revoke abusive laws, and end discrimination against Muslims and other minorities, or it will soon be facing crises of its own making,” he said.
In November, U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated Suu Kyi on the NLD’s electoral success, noting that formation of a new government “could be an important step forward in the nation’s democratic transition,” the White House said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described the 2015 elections as “an important step forward” but also cautioned that what happens next is key to Myanmar’s future.