In Suu Kyi election victory, Burmese journalists see chance for change
Dec 3, Naypyidaw: The date November 8, 2015 may go down as a historic turning point for democracy in Myanmar. On that day, formerly jailed opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party won 390 seats in the country's combined Parliament, enough for an absolute majority despite the fact that 25 percent of seats are reserved for military officials.
The landslide victory, combined with assurances by military leaders that Suu Kyi's party will be allowed to take power, further raises hope for the future of democratic governance and human rights, including media freedom, in the country. It also presents an opportunity to evaluate the Burmese media's ability to report freely and independently on issues of public interest.
Fears regarding the ability of NLD assume its mandate date back to 1990, when the party won a similarly overwhelming victory that was not recognised by the ruling military junta. Current President Thein Sein has promised that this time will be different, telling local media: "All duties would be transferred to the next government systematically according to the schedule. We will make sure it will be smooth and stable without having to worry about anything."
The NLD remains cautions. "This time, although we are quite glad that we won, we worry that history may repeat itself,” NLD spokesman Win Htein has been quoted as saying. “We don't think the transition will be 100 per cent perfect.”
Should President Thein Sein keep his word, Myanmar's new parliament is expected to take office in March 2016. Although Aung San Suu Kyi's election win suggests that Myanmar's citizens would like to see her as the country's next president, the military-era constitution bars her from taking the position because her children and late husband are foreign nationals. Suu Kyi has nevertheless suggested that she will run the country from behind the scenes, with the president only acting “in accordance with the positions of the party”.
The November 2015 elections: free and fair?
Though there is no doubt that Myanmar has taken important steps toward democratisation in recent years, this month's elections were seen as a stern test of the country's commitment to change. In general, observers both in Myanmar and abroad seemed to agree that the vote was largely free if not fully fair, as Aung San Suu Kyi herself put it in an interview with the BBC.
A pre-election survey commissioned by Myanmar's Mizzima Media Group in October 2015 found that 66 percent of Burmese voters believed that the 2015 vote would be free and fair. By contrast, just 34 percent thought the same of the 2010 general elections, which the NLD boycotted. 77 percent approved of the work of the Union Election Commission (UEC) in ensuring high polling standards. Despite the overall optimism, the survey did reveal specific concerns: 65 percent of respondents indicated that they had misgivings about voter lists, for example.
Following the vote, the European Union's Election Observation Mission (EOM) in Myanmar concluded that the poll had been well organised, ballot secrecy had been respected and that and “voters had a real choice between different candidates”. Likewise, the U.S.-based Carter Center, which sent observers to 245 polling stations, praised the ballot casting and counting processes and said the elections were “competitive and meaningful” in most parts of the country.
However, the EOM and the Carter Center, among other observers, highlighted the need for improvements in certain areas. These include the disenfranchisement of ethnic minorities such as the Rohingya, lack of transparency related to out-of-constituency advanced voting and the constitutional allocation of 25 percent of parliamentary seats to the military. The Carter Center urged authorities to increase efforts to allay public concern about voter lists in the future.
In a strong indication of global support, U.S. President Barack Obama reportedly called President Thein Sein to congratulate him on the vote's success. Later, in a conversation with Aung San Suu Kyi, according to a White House statement, Obama characterised the election and the formation of a new government as “an important step forward in Burma's democratic transition”.
The Oslo Times