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MYANMAR: National League for Democracy (NLD) Gearing up to Govern the Nation

Paper No. 6060                                Dated 19-Jan-2016

By C. S. Kuppuswamy

“The next government…will have to walk a delicate balance with the military in order to govern effectively, constrained in part by the military’s fear of retribution for the past. There is a risk that this balancing act will lead to an agreement to leave the past unaddressed, and in fact NLD leader [Suu Kyi] has recently implied that such an arrangement is acceptable to her.”-  Extract of a report of the International Center for Transitional Justice (The Diplomat-06 January 2016).

In the run up to the general elections held on 08 Nov 2015, the National League for Democracy (NLD), the main opposition party under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, was the most favourite party and was expected to emerge as the leading party.  When the results were declared, even the NLD must have been surprised by the resounding victory of not only securing about 80% of the elected seats in both houses of parliament but also in dominating most of the regional parliaments.

Unlike in 1990 elections, when the NLD (which had a landslide victory of capturing 392 of 485 seats) was denied the chance to govern the nation by the military junta, this time the President and the military leadership have repeatedly confirmed a smooth transition of power to NLD, though the modalities are yet to be worked out.

It has been officially declared that the current assembly closes on 31 January 2016 and the newly elected parliament will be convened on 01 February 2016.  However, the election of the President and the functioning of the new cabinet will not take place before March 2016.

Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi has been the cynosure of the local media since the time the election results started pouring in.  As of now it seems Aung San Suu Kyi is NLD and NLD is Aung San Suu Kyi.  Even the election mandate of the people is more for her than the party.  All decisions are being taken by her and even the executive members or the spokespersons do not express their opinions beyond what she has already decided.

As of now she is debarred from becoming the President under Article 59 (f) of the 2008 constitution which says “shall he himself, one of the parents, the spouse, one of the legitimate children or their spouses not owe allegiance to a foreign power, not be subject of a foreign power or citizen of a foreign country”.  Her two sons are British citizens as was her late husband. She has repeatedly said that she will be “above the President” in the new government to be formed.

To prevent the military from disregarding the election results (as in 1990) she has from the outset harped on a “national reconciliation” government and ready to forgive those who have persecuted her and the NLD in the past and that nothing can be achieved by a revengeful attitude.

With this “national reconciliation” in view, she sought for meetings with all those who mattered in the present government, parliament and the military leadership.  She met with President Thein Sein and C-in-C Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing on 02 December 2015.  She has had a series of meetings with the lower house speaker Thura Shwe Mann since the middle of November 2015.  Surprisingly on 04 December 2015, she also met with Senior General Than Shwe, the erstwhile leader of the military junta, who was responsible for all her miseries till March 2010.  It seems he referred to her as the “future leader” whom he would support as quoted by his grandson Nay Shwe Thway Aung.  The details of discussions during these meetings have not been conveyed to the press.

Suu Kyi in order to establish herself firmly and quickly in the new set up:

  • Had a meeting with the officials of Myanmar Peace Centre and apprised herself with the progress on the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.
  • Has started interacting with elected representatives of other political parties and leaders of ethnic groups who are apprehensive that the minorities and ethnics may not get their due in the new dispensation.
  • Attended the Union Peace Conference which began on January 12, 2016 and has stated that the new administration will make the peace process its top priority.  However, she pointed out the shortcomings of the peace agreement and that the framework of the political dialogue should be made more flexible (The Irrawaddy – Jan 12, 2016).
  • Met the foreign diplomats in the country and most of them have pledged their support for the new government.  Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have even extended her an invitation to visit Japan at an early date.
  • Media reports indicate that she may again be meeting Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing shortly to seek ways and means to circumvent Article 59 (f), if not amending it.

National League for Democracy (NLD)

“The outgoing administration of President Thein Sein and the National League for Democracy have formed separate (transition) committees to map out the transfer of responsibilities to the next government (The Irrawaddy – 11 December, 2015).

The NLD team for this Committee includes the Central Executive Committee members Win Htein and Dr. Myo Aung and Rangoon University Rector Dr. Aung Thu.  The committees are meeting regularly since the third week of December 2015.

The NLD held a training programme for its elected members at Shwe San Eain Hotel owned by tycoon Tay Za in the second week of December 2015.  A three day training session for the new law-makers was also planned to be held from January 14 to 16, 2016.

The NLD has revealed its plans for appointing regional chief ministers.  The party’s spokesperson said that ethnic minority people who are NLD members will be chosen and emphasised that the regional chief ministers will be from NLD.

The party’s economic committee chairman Han Tha Myint has said that it plans to “largely continue the economic policies of the outgoing military-backed administration and won’t attempt to shutter businesses linked to the former generals” (Dow Jones Business News – 21 December 2015).  This will give respite to the two military conglomerates, Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd., and the Myanmar Economic Corporation which deal in various things and are worth billions.

The Executive Committee of the party has shortlisted the names for the posts of the speakers of both houses of the parliament and for the President.

On the formation of the new cabinet a party official told the Reuters (14 January 2016) that Suu Kyi is likely to form a conciliatory cabinet which may include some from the Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP) as well as technocrats from ethnic minorities.  The cabinet is also likely to be streamlined to include less than 25 ministries from the existing 36.  The NLD does not plan to retain any of the existing ministers and the names for the President and ministers are likely to be announced before February 1, 2016 when the new parliament secession begins.

News Analyses

  • This time the military leadership is inclined to allow her to form the government, though on certain preconditions which have not been revealed to the media.
  • Despite the pronouncements to the contrary, Senior General Than Shwe continues to be exerting his influence on the military leadership and has given his blessings for Aung San Suu Kyi to form the new government most probably on the condition that he and his family as well as the other military leaders are not tried for their past military actions and human rights abuses.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi has perhaps rightly taken a pragmatic approach in seeking “reconciliation” with the present leadership and the military and is ready to forgive those who have oppressed her and the party.  (She has gone to the extent of saying that she will even co-opt some form the USDP as her ministers).
  • Her status as one “above the President” in the new dispensation is going to cause confusion and pose many an embarrassing situation for her and her proxy President.  There are speculations in the media that the military leadership may eventually relent and lend support for amending the constitution.
  • With little experience in governance it is going to be a daunting task for Suu Kyi and her party to govern the nation especially with some key portfolios being held by the military.  For smooth functioning of the government she may have to compromise on some major issues.  It is presumed that the bureaucracy will remain intact to help the new administration.
  • The Ethnic Groups are not currently happy with her and have still voted her to power with the fond hope that she will perform better than the present quasi-civilian government in getting their demands fulfilled.

The three major challenges for the new government are:

  • Reconciliation with the army
  • Carry forward the peace process and gain the trust of the ethnic groups
  • Economic reforms and development

Despite all the support expected from the Western nations and Japan, she cannot ignore China and has to adopt a balanced approach to keep China satisfied (if not happy).