Suu Kyi’s NLD on Cusp of Historic Myanmar Election Victory

National League for Democracy party supporters celebrate election results.

Photographer: Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg

A quarter century after Myanmar’s ruling generals denied Aung San Suu Kyi’s first electoral triumph, the longtime opposition leader is on the cusp of a landslide victory that will prove the biggest test of the military’s pledge to embrace democracy in the Southeast Asian nation.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy has won 327 seats in the two houses of parliament in the Nov. 8 vote, two short of the super majority needed to select the country’s next president. With about 100 seats still to report, the NLD is dominating the returns, with the ruling party winning just 40 races so far. The NLD’s triumph will likely be confirmed Friday, with the next batch of results due at noon local time.

Her opponents, while not conceding, have signaled that they are prepared for a shift to a civilian government after more than a half century of rule by the military and their surrogates. The army Wednesday offered its “congratulations” and said it was prepared for “national reconciliation talks.” President Thein Sein said Wednesday he was willing to meet with Suu Kyi to discuss the transition as soon as the results are final. He will begin talks with political parties on Nov. 15, the Myanmar Times reported Thursday.

‘National Euphoria’

"It would seem that Thein Sein has accepted the NLD’s electoral victory with as much grace as he can muster,” said Derek Tonkin, a former U.K. ambassador to Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, who is now on the board of Bagan Capital, a Myanmar-focused advisory firm. “I doubt that we shall see any serious attempts to create trouble. But the national euphoria will wear off, sooner rather than later."

U.S. President Barack Obama called Suu Kyi on Wednesday to congratulate her on the initial returns and commended the Nobel Peace Prize winner for her “tireless efforts and sacrifice over so many years to promote a more inclusive, peaceful, and democratic Burma,” the White House said in a statement, using the former name for the country.

Economic Opening

Decades of isolation under military rule left Myanmar one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia. The quasi-civilian government led by the Union Solidarity and Development Party 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. Despite the country’s progress, the USDP remained highly unpopular and was routed in the Sunday vote.

Myanmar Military, Suu Kyi Need to Share Power: Connelly

Suu Kyi, 70, is a longtime nemesis of the country’s military leaders who kept her under house arrest for 15 years. She is barred from becoming president under a 2008 constitution drafted by the military because her children are foreign nationals. Even with an NLD government in place, the political system is still rigged to protect the army’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 has lucrative economic interests from jade mining to banking.

An Oxford-educated former academic, Suu Kyi has repeatedly said that despite the constitutional ban, she will be running the government and be above the president. “I’ll make all the decisions, it’s as simple as that,” she said in a Nov. 10 interview with the BBC.

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