Column: Even with Suu Kyi victory, Myanmar still needs change

In this Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015, file photo, leader of Myanmar's National League for Democracy party, Aung San Suu Kyi visits a polling station on the outskirts Yangon, Myanmar. Winning Myanmar's election turned out to be easier than expected for Aung San Suu Kyi and her opposition party, but steering the country will be a test of how the Nobel Peace laureate balances her moral vision with political realities. (Mark Baker, File/AP)

The National League for Democracy (NLD) won an absolute majority, over 66 percent of parliament seats in their parliament, in Myanmar’s general election last week. This was the country’s first national election since nominally changing to a civilian government in 2011. The change was preceded by 50 years of military rule.

The NLD now has control of the Hluttaw, Myanmar’s parliament, and is in a position to decide the country’s next president. This party, led by chairperson Aung San Suu Kyi, promotes a multi-party democracy under the rule of law with freedom of speech and the independence of the judiciary. Their victory displays an important step towards democracy, but there are still many injustices in this election that must be addressed. 

Myanmar’s armed forces may not run the government, but they do hold an alarming amount of control. In drafting the country’s constitution, the military ensured its contribution by allotting itself 25 percent of the Hluttow’s seats and granting itself a veto over any constitutional changes.

The military continues to manage key ministries such as defense and internal and border affairs. Military power should not be in control of the government, it should be controlled by the government. The considerable amount of power left in the hands of the military displays the distance that Myanmar must traverse before they have a true democracy.

Further issues challenge the democratic process in this country. Even though over 30 million people were able to vote in the election on November 8, it is said that around 4 million people have been shut out of voting. There are complaints of inaccurate voting lists which include the names of deceased people but also prevent many eligible voters from casting their ballots.

This injustice of an unequal right to vote includes the disenfranchisement of the Rakhine State, a part of Myanmar’s Muslim minority with an estimated population of over one million people. The Rohingya are treated as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh despite the fact that they have been in the country for centuries. This is part of Myanmar’s deliberate exclusion of Muslims, who make up at least 4 percent of the population, from participating in the election.

In order to progress towards a just government, Myanmar must practice equal and fair voting rights. 

This election placed the NLD in a position to decide the next president, but their top political figure, Chairperson Suu Kyi, has been barred from the political office. Under the constitution made by the military, the president is not allowed to have children who owe “allegiance to a foreign power”. Both of Suu Kyi’s sons are British citizens which disqualifies her from running.  It is speculated that this rule in the constitution, Article 59F, was included by the military specifically to bar Suu Kyi from office.

During an interview, Chairperson Suu Kyi mentioned that she had a civilian in mind for the job, but she stressed that, as head of the party, she would still lead the government from the Hluttaw. The need for constitutional change is emphasized by the impotency of the presidential office due to Article 59F and the dominance of the military in Myanmar’s government.

In the interview, Chairperson Suu Kyi alluded to the fact that the presidential office will not perform as it is intended because she cannot act in the position. When stating that she would still make decisions for the country, Suu Kyi undermined the next president of the country. Presidential power should not be determined by the person in office but by the validity of the people’s vote and the stability the constitution brings to the office. 

The sound election of the NLD displays the progress Myanmar has made from the total military rule a few years ago, yet there are still many faults in their system that must be recognized and addressed. There is an evident need for changes to their constitution which are prohibited without military approval. The next few political steps are crucial for the country that is striving for a just government.


Alyssa Luis is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at alyssa.luis@uconn.edu.