With Aung San Suu Kyi’s friend and confidante Htin Kyaw elected as President of Myanmar, the National League for Democracy leader has come a full circle since the stolen election of 1990. The poll was scrapped by the military junta when they found the NLD was to win a landslide. It was Aung San Suu Kyi who fought relentlessly for over two decades to bring Myanmar back to the democratic path. Thousands of NLD supporters were jailed by the military, many more fled the country.
However despite the seeming victory, the army continues to cast its shadow over the once isolated nation. The military still has 25 percent of the seats reserved for them in Parliament. One of the two vice presidents in the new government will be Myint Swe, the army’s nominee. Henry Van Thio, the other NLD nominee, belongs to one of the many minority groups in the country. Swe will serve as first vice president and Thio as the second.
Much like Sonia-Manmohan Singh rule:
"Victory! This is sister Aung San Suu Kyi's victory. Thank you," Htin Kyaw said after winning. He knows he has become the president mainly because the powerful army, which ruled Myanmar with an iron fist, changed the Constitution to keep Suu Kyi out. Her late husband was a British national and her two sons have British passports. Despite pushing the military and holding several rounds of discussion, up to the last minute, the army stood firm on insisting that as the widow of a British citizen, she could not be president. Kyan, a close personal and family friend has stepped in instead. But Suu Kyi has made no bones about where the real power in the government and the party lie.
This is much like the Sonia Gandhi–Manmohan Singh duo in 2004. Sonia would have become prime minister but for the fact that the nation was not in the mood to digest a foreign born PM. The BJP’s Sushma Swaraj vowed to shave her hair and protest if this happened. So while the UPA made much of the separation of party and government, Suu Kyi has clearly indicated that she would be calling the shots. Like Sonia Gandhi, Suu Kyi trusts Kyan not to upstage her. While the UPA was keen to hide where the real power lay, Suu Kyi has been disarmingly honest. She has vowed to rule by proxy as the army has refused to relent.
Htin Kyaw will replace Thein Sein who will step down at the end of the month after five years of army-backed rule. Kyan’s cabinet will be chosen by Suu Kyi and will be in place by April.
The new government will have its work cut out, as it grapples with the issue of developing a nation which has been isolated for decades. With the lifting of the sanctions in Myanmar and Western business flocking in, the more serious question of dealing with national minorities and insurgent groups will be a priority with the government. Though President Thein Sein, was able to clinch a peace deal with eight ethnic rebel groups last October, some of the major ethnic outfits refused to fall in line. The Kachin Independence Army, Shan State Army and United Wa State Army – the three oufits that contral the largest amount of territory and the best armed, continue to want their independence from the majority Burman’s who they accuse of discrimination. The Kachins, Shans and the Wa group have fought for separation from the Burmese since that country was freed from British rule.
All eyes will also be on how the new government deals with the Rohingya Muslims of Rakhine state. These Bengali speaking minorities have been persecuted for decades by the Buddhist majority of the country. Nobel prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi had before the national elections been strangely reluctant to speak up for them, fearing a backlash from her Burman Buddhist support base. Now that the NLD is in power, Suu Kyi can do her bit to give the one million Rohingya’s their rightful place as citizens of Myanmar.
Suu Kyi has been blunt about her disappointment with New Delhi, since she was released from house arrest in 2011. Having grown up and studied in Delhi, she naturally expected India to back her. Despite initially championing the pro-democracy movement, India under the pragmatic Narasimha Rao reversed its policy of boycotting the military junta. This was because the vacuum left by India was being quickly filled by China who were cosy with the generals. India long suspicious of China, especially in its sensitive north eastern border, began cosying up to the generals for strategic considerations since 1992. Her parents were close friends of the Nehru-Gandhi family.
Western democracies, not China will play a dominant role:
So while there is no doubt that India and Myanmar will work together as neighbours, it is hardly likely that Su Kyi’s government will show special consideration for India. The fear that China will be all over Myanmar has also receded. Though China has built infrastructure in Myanmar, Suu Kyi is more prone to Western democracies that stood by her in her time of need.
However considering that India’s technology often works better in developing countries than that of the more sophisticated methods of the West, there is bound to be more and more engagement between Delhi and its eastern neighbour.