Myanmar’s Army Recognizes Suu Kyi Win, Offers Cooperation

Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi. Photographer: Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg

  • NLD must accept army as a partner in order to avoid problems
  • Previous NLD election victory was ignored by military rulers

Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing respects the outcome of Myanmar’s election and is willing to work with a new government led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, a senior government official said.

“The commander-in-chief of the armed forces has said that he will accept the position made by the Myanmar people and will also work with a new government,” Minister of Information Ye Htut said in an interview. In a separate written statement, the army offered its congratulations to the NLD “because it is leading in the election results” and said it was prepared for “national reconciliation talks” next week.

Suu Kyi’s NLD is dominating early returns from the Sunday vote and is on track to rout the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, the military’s political arm. Aung Hlaing publicly bowing to the results may reassure the NLD, who fear a repeat of Myanmar’s first modern election in 1990, when the NLD also won a sweeping victory only to see the ruling generals refuse to accept the outcome. Suu Kyi won the vote even though she was under house arrest at the time.

Foreign Investment

With the NLD poised to break the army’s grip on direct control of the government, the election is proving to be the biggest test yet of just how much influence the military is willing to relinquish after half a century rule that left Myanmar one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia. The quasi-civilian USDP government has opened Myanmar to the outside world since 2010, attracting a flood of foreign investment and fueling some of the fastest economic growth in Southeast Asia.

Even with an NLD government in place, the political system is still rigged to protect the military’s interests. Key ministries such as defense and interior are reserved for the army as well as 25 percent of the seats in each house of the legislature. The military also controls lucrative parts of the economy such as jade mining.

As long as NLD sees the military as a partner, “there will be no problems,” Ye Htut said.

‘People’s Will’

President Thein Sein, a former general, said Wednesday his government also acknowledges the outcome and he was prepared to meet with Suu Kyi once the final results are tallied. Suu Kyi appealed for a meeting with the two men on Wednesday to ensure the “people’s will” is respected as the vote count dragged on.

The election commission has released results of about two thirds of the seats in parliament being contested. The NLD has won 273 seats to about 27 for the USDP. The NLD needs about 330 seats in the two houses to be able to select the next president without relying on any other party for support. The country’s election commission has said counting could take a week or longer.

“The public has expressed their opinion,” Suu Kyi said in letters she sent to Aung Hlaing, Thein Sein and parliament Speaker Shwe Mann asking for a meeting. “It is important to implement the people’s will in a peaceful manner for the sake of the country’s dignity.”

Investors are hoping that an NLD government will further pry open the economy. In a bid to bring Myanmar out of economic isolation, the USDP allowed foreign participation in industries such as energy exploration, banking and telecommunications. Foreign direct investment, led by spending on infrastructure and low-cost manufacturing, surged to $8.1 billion in the fiscal year ended in March, more than 20 times the 2010 level. That
jump helped annual economic growth average more than 7 percent since that year.

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