Victory for Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party holds the hope of a new beginning for a nation that was ruled for years under repressive military rule. But great challenges lie ahead for the country’s first civilian-led government. Aung San Suu Kyi is also dealing with NLD election victory tactfully – in not wanting to upset the USDP losers further which in-turn could potentially disrupt the status quo.
The Asian Diplomat has compiled four potential challenges which the future Myanmar government may likely face:
1) Who will lead?
This has been the primary question as according to the Myanmar constitution chapter 3; no 59(f) of the constitution, the president must be someone who “he himself, one of the parents, the spouse, one of the legitimate children or their spouses not owe allegiance to a foreign power”.
To circumvent this Suu Kyi has said she will rule “above the president”, a legally uncertain position that she has not fleshed out in detail. She will effectively choose a president as she controls the NLD which will in turn dominate parliament. Lawmakers will elect the head of state from three candidates selected by the lower house, the upper house and the military.
Suu Kyi, who could take on a prominent role like the parliament speaker, has also indicated that she will direct policy.
It is worth noting that the military still have the 25 percent of the seats in the parliament. How such distribution may impact Suu Kyi position and the new government? Though it is still early to speculate – this arrangement in the Myanmar parliament may be the thorn in the flesh for any future democratic administration.
2) Managing the military
One of the most important aspects of this transition is easing the nerves of a still enormously powerful military. As the daughter of the army’s founding father and independence hero General Aung San, Suu Kyi has repeatedly said that she is very fond of the military. She has made it very clear that she wants to slowly prize the army away from politics.
Perhaps in a show of defiance – the Myanmar military launched an attack on the marginalised Kachin ethnic and its rebels on 16 November- a few days after ASSK won the election. La Nan, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) spokesman told VOA Burmese the offensive began Saturday and escalated as government troops used artillery and airstrikes outside the town of Mohnyin in Kachin State.
The above signals a complicated work ahead for ASSK and her new administration in tackling the Military state mentality which still pervades the Myanmar junta.
Worth noting, speculations are rife that ASSK may likely select a former military leader well trusted and respected by the public and army officials to be the new president.
3) The Rohingya problem
The stickiest issue by far is the status of the Rohingya, an oppressed Muslim ethnic minority who have been brutally persecuted in Myanmar, with the active involvement of Buddhist monks and government security forces. The Rohingya, subject to widespread mob violence, have been herded into camps, where many have attempted to flee to neighboring countries—triggering a refugee crisis throughout Southeast Asia that mirrors the plight of Syrians trying to reach Europe.
Suu Kyi has been noticeably silent on the Rohingya’s plight—inexcusable for a Nobel Peace Prize winner, but all too understandable, if lamentable, for a politician vying for votes in a mostly Buddhist country where the Rohingya are reviled.
However, since she has won the election – the practical question now is – how will she change the current status quo that is facing the Rohingyas? Secondly, is there a political will – considering that ASSK is likely to face the wrath of the still-powerful military and the emerging Buddhist rightist group?
4) The emergence of the Buddhist Rightist
The third factor brings us to another pertinent issue facing contemporary Myanmar.
Over the years, there has been an emergence of dogmatic form of Buddhist political movement. Various group emerged and one of such involved the firebrand Wirathu which has constantly been propagating the idea where Myanmar main enemy – is it very own Muslim population. Wirathu, 46, might bear as much responsibility as any individual for the desperate exodus of Muslims from Myanmar aboard overcrowded fishing boats bound for Thailand and Malaysia. In speeches and Facebook posts, he has warned of an impending “jihad” against the huge Buddhist majority, spread rumors of Muslims systematically raping Buddhist women and called for boycotts of Muslim-owned businesses. Good Buddhists, he argues, shouldn’t mix socially with Muslims, who he says are “snakes” and “mad dogs.”
Apart from the vitriolic approach, Wirathu has the potential to mobilize his Buddhist growing masses to pressure any ruling Myanmar government to exhibit zero tolerance for the Rohingyas or Muslims. A little extra show of sympathy to the Rohingyas, or Muslims in general, may likely send a different message to this rightist group, which could possibly of creating another violent chaos as in 2012.
This segment presents a potent problem for the new government – pertinently if ASSK is serious enough in mobilising efforts towards national reconciliation between various ethnic it has – The Asian Diplomat