While supporters of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi hit the streets to celebrate an apparent landslide win for her party in Sunday’s election, a dazed former general sat at home licking his wounds.
Veteran politician Htay Oo, acting chief of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), lost his seat in the Irrawaddy delta town of Hinthada, in its supposed rural heartland, to a political rookie fielded by Suu Kyi.
Asked why his opponent won, Htay Oo told Reuters: “I’d also like to know the answer to this question.”
No wonder he seemed shaken. The likely victory of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party signals a tectonic shift in power that has devastated his ruling party and turfed out some of its most influential politicians.
It could even mark “the beginning of the end” for the military’s long domination of Myanmar, said Khin Zaw Win, director of the Tampadipa Institute, a Yangon-based think tank.
“Military domination won’t end in one swoop, it will happen bit-by-bit, day-by-day.”
The military ceded power to a nominally civilian government in 2011 after nearly half a century of iron-fisted rule. It will continue to loom large over the post-election landscape, and Suu Kyi’s relations with its commander-in-chief will be critical.
The USDP holds three-quarters of the elected seats in Myanmar’s current parliament. The NLD is now on course to dramatically overturn that majority, leaving the USDP with perhaps a few dozen seats in the lower house.
Its defeat also appeared to have silenced a group of radical Buddhist monks called Ma Ba Tha, who had vociferously campaigned against the NLD.
“TALK TO THE MILITARY”
Htay Oo and other USDP supremos might be smarting from their embarrassing defeats, but many remain wealthy and well-connected men whose influence will still be felt. Indeed, one defeated USDP heavyweight said Suu Kyi’s triumph would mean more money for established business interests, not less.
And while the scale of the NLD’s victory might have disappointed the military, “they definitely factored that in as a likely scenario years in advance”, said Richard Horsey, an independent Myanmar analyst.
The constitution reserves a quarter of all parliamentary seats for military officers, as well as the powerful ministries of defence, home affairs and border affairs. This gives the military a stranglehold on security matters and the nation’s sprawling bureaucracy.
The constitution also bans Suu Kyi from assuming the presidency because her children are foreign nationals, a clause widely seen as aimed specifically at thwarting her. But she has vowed to rule Myanmar from “above the president” while appointing a proxy to occupy the position.
Even so, Suu Kyi’s choice of proxy president will have to be accepted by the military, senior NLD leader Han Tha Myint told Reuters.
Otherwise, “three very important ministers will be out of sync with the whole cabinet, and our government will not be functional,” he said. “So the first thing we must do is talk to the military.”
Relations between Suu Kyi and armed forces chief Min Aung Hlaing are said to be strained.
Results were still being counted after the first credible general election in 25 years, but already the contrast in fortunes between Myanmar’s two major parties is stunning.
Suu Kyi spent 15 years as a prisoner of the military, which created the rival USDP and stuffed it with former officers. Other NLD members were jailed, tortured and murdered under the army’s authoritarian rule.
The USDP, meanwhile, has snatched catastrophe from the jaws of defeat. It has dominated parliament since sweeping a 2010 election, boycotted by the NLD and widely viewed as rigged.
The party might yet claw back seats in some ethnic and rural areas, but its future looks uncertain.
“I don’t really know how they’re going to go forward. They have so few MPs in the new parliament,” said Win Oo, who lost his USDP seat in the lower house.
The futures of many individual USDP leaders, however, who amassed huge fortunes under the dictatorship, look more rosy.
Despite being shut out of parliament, “their broader political and business opportunities are still open to them”, said Richard Horsey.
Khin Shwe, who lost his USDP seat in the upper house, is also chairman of the conglomerate Zaykabar Group. He told the Irrawaddy, a Myanmar news service, that Suu Kyi’s victory will mean more foreign investment – and more business for him.
Back in Hinthada, the NLD candidate who defeated USDP party boss Htay Oo was wreathed in smiles. Khin Maung Yee, 71, a retired biology teacher, was excited and nervous at the prospect of taking his seat in parliament in Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw.
“I’ve never been there,” he said.
Source: Channel News Asia