Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi led her National League of Democracy party into Myanmar’s parliament as the clear majority party in a major step towards true democracy in a nation long ruled by the military.
Suu Kyi’s political party won 80% of all seats open to the public (by the constitution the military still controls 25% of the Parliament’s seats). The next few months will allow her party to name the speaker of the house, most of the government’s ministers (except Home, Defense and Border Affairs which are reserved for the military) and the President.
Under the military drafted constitution, Suu Kyi cannot be President because her children are not Myanmar citizens because her (now deceased) husband was British. Despite this barrier, Suu Kyi has publicly stated that the enormous mandate earned by her party means that she will be “above the President.” She is largely expected to run the country through a proxy.
History of Democracy
This government is the first that has been truly democratically elected since the military took over the country in 1962.
It’s actually the second time the NLD has won a majority in Parliament but only the first time the results have been recognized. In 1990, the NLD won 59% of the national vote, earning 81% of the Parliamentary seats but the military junta in control of the nation at that time refused to abide by the election results. After the 1990 elections Suu Kyi was put under house arrest for years.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s Journey
Aung San Suu Kyi has been the face of the struggle for democracy in Myanmar for years. Her life has journeyed through the changes of the nation.
She was born the same year her father helped found the nation’s first army and negotiate national independence from the British Empire. Her father was assassinated only a few years later.
Growing up she was educated in an English language school in Myanmar, before joining her mother in India after her mother was named Myanmar’s Ambassador to India and Nepal. After the military took over the government in 1962, Suu Kyi spent most of the next 20 years being educated in India and England and living for a period in the US (her brother is actually a US citizen now).
She would eventually marry and have two children with British Scholar Michael Aris. Because of this her children are not citizens of Myanmar, a fact that has been used to disqualify her from being President of Myanmar today.
In 1988, Suu Kyi returned to Myanmar as the then military ruler General Ne Win stepped down. This marked the beginning of her on-the-ground involvement in pro-democracy politics in Myanmar.
Over the next 21 years she would spend over 16 of them under house arrest. While under house arrest she received the Nobel Peace Prize and became the face of the democracy movement in Myanmar and across the region.
It was not until November, 2010 that she was fully released from detention and allowed to engage in political activity.
Her journey is a symbol of the tumult and upheaval that has marked Myanmar since its independence.
Aung Sun Suu Kyi and her NLD will now take on the responsibility of running Myanmar. The nation faces intense economic challenges, widespread poverty and a variety of internal ethnic crises that have all too often turned violent. Under her guidance she will also have to contend with a still powerful military element, balancing the desire for change now with her overall more pragmatic tendency to work with diverse groups including the military.
Today is a powerful moment in Myanmar’s history. It’s also a triumph for the world. Suu Kyi has been the face of the struggle for democracy in Myanmar for over two decades. She has become an icon in the region and to many around the world. Celebrate today, work hard for tomorrow and nations like Myanmar will help pave the path to a future without extreme poverty.