Myanmar Mother Suu's moment in history

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'Electric, euphoric, historic' are the gushing words as Myanmar stands at the threshold of history. Eighty-year-old Sein Tun, a delta farmer, with tears rolling down his parched face, says: 'I never thought this moment will arrive in my life time. What a joy! This is a miracle.'

Aung San Suu Kyi Time Magazine coverThe people of Myanmar have voted with vengeance. The ruling USDP is gasping to reach double figures. A sympathetic Union Election Commission is dithering. Even after three days and depressing delays in election results. The shock and awe of the verdict is total. S

According to the election commission Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD party is still around 163 seats. NLD supporters believe they have already crossed the magic number; won 360 seats in the bicameral parliament of 657 seats. Supporters are in a revelry of celebration. President U Thein Sein, welcomes the verdict. The army chief has agreed to meet Aung San Sui Kyi. Aung San Sui Kyi has won a clear mandate to lead. Will she lead?

Even to neutral observers, NLD is on a rollercoaster ride, a tsunami sweep of the first free election, clocking around 78 per cent of the votes. This gives scope for control of executive and legislative powers to NLD.

The results resonate beyond the shores of Myanmar. The manner in which a fragile woman with the power of empty hands wrought a miracle, melting decades of totalitarian dominance, is the stuff of history. The world savours this moment as its own. This is the Gandhi moment, the Mandela moment of the 21st Century. In an era of ISIL killings and chronic violent wars in the middle east for 'democracy', a woman from the east has once again affirmed the moral superiority of non violence.

This a pivotal moment in history.

But challenges abound. The journey has many road blocks. Aung San Suu Kyi cannot hold the reins of power at once. She is barred. The 2008 constitution entrenches the army's role. It safeguards economic interests of the army and their business partners. Unbridled powers are entrusted with the army. The military is the ultimate custodian of the constitution.

Military will not easily give up its political and economic power. It has 25 per cent membership in all legislatives. It controls the important ministries: defense, internal security and border affairs. A civilian government is powerless in these. Local administration and the judiciary is controlled by the army. The army can take over any time at its discretion.

But for the common man and woman, this election is a dream come true. Their 'Amay Suu' (Mother Suu) has won. The long night of silent tears —of lonely prisons, of unknown graves, of millions of migrants, of refugees, IDPs and the stolen generations of Myanmar — ends with a dawn. The nation of Myanmar will be guided by an icon of hope.

An exuberant Aung San Suu Kyi prepares to meet the president and army chief. She has been proposing 'a government of national reconciliation'. A thinker and leader in the mould of her legendary father, Gen Aung San, she knows winning the election is 'just the first step'. The hard journey now starts.

She won a similar contest in the 1990s. She needs to preempt an encore of those sad events. She is 70 years old. She needs a consensus to bring the changes she wants to bring in. That explains her olive branch to all. She needs friends and enemies in her mission. Thus 'national reconciliation'.

Her urgent task is to find at least two suitable candidates: one to be president and another vice president. The parliamentarians will sit to elect an electoral college in January which in turn will elect the president and two vice presidents. The army is assured of one of these.

There have been unconfirmed rumours that the present president would continue for two more years, helping in the change in the constitution by the majority NLD with the consensus of the army. That will bring Aung San Suu Kyi into power in one or two years.

She is candid — in a recent interview she asserted that president or no president, she is going to rule 'above the president'. That must be interesting to her party and to the military — the ultimate arbiters. Already observers are worried about the ruthless majority of NLD.

Her professed trajectory is towards peace and development. She has a herculean task. A rentier economy has opened resources to a crony capitalism. Extractive industry is worth billions, but benefits a few while the poor continue to lose their lands and resources. The poor cannot eat democracy. 

As political commentator Dr Thant Myint U observed, 'It is hard to imagine any strengthening of democratic change without parallel improvements in people's wellbeing.'

There have been criticisms about her silence on minority issues, and the mining and sale of resources to other countries and use of mines.

Long term goals await. The decades long conflicts — at least four of them simmering as the election results were coming — need resolution. The perceived grievance of ethnic communities — seven major communities and 135 sub communities — need to be addressed.

According to Dr Thant Myint U Myanmar history suffers from 'binary configuration of history. This configuration imposed during the colonial times dividing people into bamas and the non bamas has wrecked havoc.' Both U Nu's government and the junta contribute to the dissatisfaction through a 'one nation, one language, one religion' concept of nation building.

The recent hasty passing of laws on religion, marriage, child birth etc. alienate minorities and women. Religious fundamentalism is a real threat.

Myanmar, one of the most resource blessed countries, is also one of the poorest. Forty per cent of the people are poor, and in some states this is 70 per cent. 40 per cent of children drop out of school before reaching primary school. Its mother and infant mortality is the highest in south east Asia. Nearly two million youth from Myanmar are in nearby countries in slavery like conditions. Myanmar continues to be the second biggest producer of narcotics. Human trafficking is increasing.

But all those challenges look easy right now. Amay Suu has won comprehensively. Her faith and fortitude brought admiration from afar. Myanmar became a pilgrimage for those who venerated human rights and democracy when she was under house arrest. Aung San Suu Kyi negotiated those 15 years of incarceration with grace.

'Amay Suu will give us a better tomorrow,' says the farmer Sein Tun. Aung San Suu Kyi holds the dreams of millions in Myanmar. That is the message of this election.


Amal Aung Zaw is a trainer and resource person on development in Myanmar.

Topic tags: Amal Aung Zaw, Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi

 

 

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Existing comments

So proud of this beautiful woman who has been such an inspiration in my life! so happy I share the Burmese heritage that I have and continued connection with this beautiful land of my birth, and Myanamar's long struggle for democracy. May Aung San Suu Kyi's courage continue to find the way forward for Myanmar!
Geraldine Kearney | 13 November 2015


"Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called God's children." These words of Jesus surely designate Aung as an exemplary child of God in the eyes of Christians. In purely human terms she is a true hero and totally worthy of the praise and admiration now being given. I pray for her continued strength and health in mind and body. May she be guided by the Spirit of wisdom in the days and months ahead. Our world needs such principled and persevering leadership.
Ernest Azzopardi | 13 November 2015


I hope the Rohingya have cause to celebrate. And the Karen and other minorities.
Gavan | 13 November 2015


Her support of the attacks on the Rohingya, if only by her silence has seriously shaken my confidence of any move towards peace during her time.
Tiffany | 13 November 2015


Congratulations on the performance of the people of Myanmar who long for peace and good-living. Well written article. Aung San Suu Kyi will give her best to the nation.
Devadhas | 17 November 2015


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