Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC) announced Thursday that Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party had pulled within two seats of a majority in parliament based on results from the country’s general elections held earlier this week.
The NLD has secured 217 seats in the Union Parliament’s Lower House and 110 in the Upper House for a total of 327, the UEC said—two seats shy of the “magic number” needed for an outright majority in the legislature that would allow it to form its own government, regardless of unreported results.
The NLD must capture two-thirds of the 440 seats in the Lower House and 224 seats in the Upper House in order to form a government. Under the constitution, drafted by the former junta regime in 2008, 25 percent of seats in both houses are reserved for military appointees.
Speaking ahead of the latest results on Thursday local time, Aung San Suu Kyi told RFA’s Myanmar Service the her party’s success in the election was because it was “born of the people, and NLD members are from the people.”
“We cannot be differentiated from them. Our hearts beat on the same note,” she said.
“We struggled together, we suffered together, and we had hopes together. We dreamed together for nearly 30 years. The NLD and the people are colleagues, comrades-in-arms. I think that’s the reason they supported us.”
However, the Nobel laureate cautioned that the election is “not finished yet” and cautioned her supporters to “control themselves” and refrain from reacting to any provocation in the coming weeks and months.
Aung San Suu Kyi said that once the official election results are announced—which could take weeks—her first task will be to bring about a change of administration “in respect to the people’s wishes” and called for cooperation from the current government under President Thein Sein.
After forming a new government, she said, the NLD will lay out a “clear and precise” timeline for reforms.
“I can see that the goal people wanted is still far ahead and [the election] is only the first step,” she said.
“Only after reaching there I might be able to tell you my feelings. There are so many things to be done,” the 70-year-old Nobel laureate said when asked by RFA how she felt about the looming victory.
Aung San Suu Kyi also thanked the many candidates from the ruling Union and Solidarity Development Party (USDP) who had conceded defeat to their NLD rivals in recent days for their “politically honorable actions.”
Call for reform
Also on Thursday, outspoken USDP lawmaker Hla Swe called for fundamental changes to his party after its resounding loss in the polls, adding that if reforms were not made within three months “I will quit the party and pursue business interests.”
He dismissed the idea that the NLD had swept the polls due to the merit of its candidates, saying Myanmar suffers from “Aung San Suu Kyi syndrome”—based on her enormous popularity—and that anyone who ran under the opposition banner was virtually guaranteed a seat in parliament.
But Hla Swe, who lost his bid for a seat in parliament in Sunday’s election, was quick to point out his party’s failure to embrace change in Myanmar, adding that “even if [U.S. President Barack] Obama contested for the USDP he would have lost.”
While the USDP’s leaders claim to have reformed, “the same people remain in the CEC (central executive committee)” and have done little to adapt the party amid Myanmar’s rapid political transition from a former military regime to a democracy, said the lawmaker.
“We have three types of members in USDP—one is wealthy people, one is former ministers and generals, and the third are ‘yes men’ for the top leadership,” he said.
“These people are useless now and we have to tell them to retire. The USDP should clean house and bring in new blood—we should even change the name of party if need be. That is how much I want reform.”
Free elections welcomed
As the final results of the polls trickle in from Myanmar’s far-flung constituencies, the international community has welcomed what has widely been viewed as the first free elections in the country in a quarter decade.
In a Nov. 11 telephone call with Thein Sein, Obama commended the UEC and others in the country’s government for working with political parties, civil society and the media to overcome challenges in conducting the polls, according to a statement issued by the White House on Thursday.
In a separate call, the U.S. president congratulated Aung San Suu Kyi on her campaign and the success of the NLD in the election.
Obama called on the two leaders to respect the official results of the vote, and stressed the importance of working together to form an inclusive, representative government that reflects the will of the people, which he said “could be an important step forward in [Myanmar’s] democratic transition.”
Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government ended five decades of military rule in the country in 2011 when it took power following general elections a year earlier that the NLD boycotted amid concerns they were neither free nor fair.
The NLD had swept the previous election in 1990, but the then-ruling junta ignored the results and placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for more than a decade.
The elections have also been closely watched in the Southeast Asian region, with observers in neighboring countries saying they were impressed with the rapid pace of reform in Myanmar.
In Cambodia, which has held democratic elections since 1993 that most experts have deemed were flawed, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) Koul Panha told RFA’s Khmer Service that he had expected to find instances of intimidation and fraud at Myanmar’s polling stations.
However, while traveling in Myanmar to document the election he found that the voting process was conducted “in a peaceful manner,” reflecting good organization and work by observers, and lauded the nation’s ballot security, which he said was largely free from fraud, “unlike in Cambodia.”
In one party communist Laos, where challenging the government is not tolerated, Participatory Development Training Center (PADETC) spokesman Kolaka Bouanedaoheuang welcomed Myanmar’s election as a sign that democracy was taking hold in the country.
Kolaka told RFA's Lao Service that whether a country has a one party or a multiparty is less important than whether the people have the right to select their own representatives, but he expressed doubt that polls in Laos would ever transition to a free election, such as the one that took place in Myanmar over the weekend.
Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar and Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.