Yangon | Myanmar’s diverse ethnic minority parties were counting their losses today after Aung San Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy party won a landslide victory in historic polls. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) has so far scooped 80 per cent of elected seats in polls that promise to dramatically redraw the political landscape in a nation stifled for decades under the grip of army rule.
The party sailed past the threshold it needed to secure an absolute parliamentary majority yesterday, giving Suu Kyi and her supporters a massive popular mandate with only a few results still trickling out today. As the results became clear, parties representing Myanmar’s myriad ethnic minority groups emerged as major losers in the vote, taking just ten percent of seats in the combined parliament and losing out to the NLD even in regional legislatures. Ethnic parties won very few seats.
We did not want to see this but it has happened, said Aye Maung, chairman of Arakan National Party, who lost his own seat to the NLD in violence-torn western Rakhine state. He voiced concerns over whether ethnic voices can be heard now in the new parliament. Suu Kyi, 70, has said her party supports a federal future for Myanmar, where myriad ethnic minority groups have fought decades-long wars for greater political autonomy. But she was also criticised in the run-up to the polls for failing to reach out to smaller minority parties.
Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government has inked ceasefires with a clutch of ethnic armed groups, but several major conflicts continue, including in Shan state on the eastern border, where the military this week launched airstrikes against ethnic rebels even as votes were counted, according to the United Nations. Fighting has affected the election, with authorities cancelling seven whole national parliament constituencies all of which are in Shan state as well as suspending voting in swathes of northern Kachin state and Karen state in the east.
Both the army chief Min Aung Hlaing and President Thein Sein, whose reforms have opened the country to the world, have vowed to respect the election result and agreed to hold talks with Nobel laureate Suu Kyi. She has pledged to rule regardless of a junta-era constitution that bars her from the presidency, a legally uncertain plan that has not been fleshed out by her party. Myanmar’s army still retains huge power with a quarter of parliamentary seats reserved for unelected soldiers, and military appointees in charge of key security ministries.
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