Aung San Suu Kyi’s Democratic Party Wins Historic Victory In Myanmar Election

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If you have been keeping track of political news over the past week, aside from the usual daily spurts of US presidential campaign news, you may have heard the historic news of the recent federal election in Myanmar, formerly Burma. It was historical for a couple of reasons: 1. It is the first time in over 50 years that a party other than the military will rule the nation, 2. it is the first democractically-held election in 25 years, and 3. former political prisoner and the world’s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has finally gotten the peace and democracy she has been fighting for for many years, but her victory is somewhat bitter sweet.

Aung San Suu Kyi is the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) political party which won in a landslide against the ruling military-backed Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP). The way the Myanmar government in structured, the military will automatically hold 25% of seats and they also retain an automatic veto on legislation.

Despite being the leader of the NLD, Aung San cannot in fact be the president because her husband and children all hold foreign passports, which the Myanmar constitution forbids from its political leaders. So even though she will not technically be the president, per say, given that she is the leader of the party, her position will be one that will direct whoever ends up taking the role.

Other world leaders such as US President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron have called Aung San as well as the current President Thein Sein to congratulate the country on its new leadership.

“President Obama said that President Thein Sein should honor the results and that [the elections] are a milestone in Myanmar’s history. [Obama said] President Thein Sein’s brave reform is shaping the bright future of Myanmar, and that the US Government will continue to cooperate with the government,” stated a Facebook post by the Myanmar Ministry of Information, according to Al Jazeera.

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The military has promised there will be a peaceful transition to the new democratic Government, despite there being more than 130 days before the new leadership takes up position. Understandably there might be some trepidations as to whether the current ruling party will have a change of heart, as they did in 1990 when the NLD won the ballot in that election but never gained the leadership position as the military refused to accept the outcome.

Out of a maximum 657 seats in the national legislature, a 329-seat majority is required to choose the president, and the NLD managed to secure 348 seats in the Union Parliament. They won 238 out of a total 298 seats in the House of Representatives, 110 seats out of a total 133 in the House of Nationalities, and 401 seats out of a total 522 in the Region or State Parliament.

Indeed it is a milestone for the country, most importantly because it marks a turning point in their history that will embrace democracy. BBC News reports an estimated 80% of the country’s eligible 30 million voters turned out to be part of changing the course of history in Myanmar.

While Aung San sadly won’t be the country’s official leader, the victory has been a long time coming. Because of her political activism dating back to the late 1980s, advocating for democracy for her people, the military junta did not like what she was doing and placed her under house arrest in 1989. She became a political prisoner in her own home. During her house arrest, her husband was overseas and became ill with cancer in 1997.

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He was not permitted back into the country by the then-Burmese government. Aung San was told she had permission to leave the country and go to visit him while he sought treatment overseas, but because she feared she would never be let back into Myanmar, she chose to stay put, which meant she did not get to see her husband again before he died in 1999.

Aung San is said to be influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s position of non-violent democracy, as well as some Buddhist principles. Having been under house arrest for many years as well as her dedication to seeing her country move into a time of freedom and democracy, we have no doubt everything she has endured has been worth it, albeit it sadly at the cost of her family life.

Now she is in a position of power she plans to use that for the benefit of the people of her country who like her, have been waiting for this moment for a long time.

“The times have changed, the people have changed,” she told BBC news about how people in the country are far more politically aware and awakened than ever before.

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“I voted for NLD because I want to change my country. I am very giddy. I think my country will be free,” said Ye Htet, 21, a university student from Yangon.

The woman who has come to affectionately be known as “The Lady” wants to ensure the future will be very different from the past.

“Prejudice is not removed easily and hatred is not going to be removed easily… I’m confident the great majority of the people want peace… they do not want to live on a diet of hate and fear,” she said.

There seems to a a steady stream of countries around the world electing their first female leaders, signalling the move toward a more democratic and free society, where in some cases these concepts did not exist before. Bangladesh, Liberia, Nepal, and Croatia are just a few countries where women are being democratically elected to the head of state for the first time, and as we watch all the way from the United States, we can only hope it won’t be long before we can join this group.

Myanmar’s historic election is not just a win for women in political leadership, it is a win for democracy, freedom and the future of a country that has fought for so long to obtain it. Watch Aung San Suu Kyi talk to BBC in her first official interview after the election results were announced:

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