Myanmar army extends hand as Suu Kyi’s party nears majority

World Today

Myanmar ElectionsA woman reads a newspaper with Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on the cover at her residence, Thursday, Nov 12, 2015, on outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

Myanmar’s official vote count inched closer Thursday to confirming a parliamentary majority for Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party, as the military establishment that has been her nemesis for decades appeared ready to toss in the towel.

While the army has not conceded defeat for the ruling pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Party, it has acknowledged the massive success of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in Sunday’s election, and pledged it will respect the final results. Those results seem virtually certain to allow the opposition to take over the government.

The office of army commander Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said the military will hold talks with Suu Kyi after the election results are complete. Suu Kyi issued an invitation on Wednesday for a meeting with the commander, along with President Thein Sein and House Speaker Shwe Mann.

Results issued so far by the Union Election Commission support unofficial numbers from the NLD and local media pointing to a landslide win for the pro-democracy crusader and a resounding rejection of military rule. While the opposition may soon have enough confirmed seats for a parliamentary majority, it could still be another week or so until all votes are tallied.

Attention is riveted on what has been called the “magic number” for Suu Kyi’s party. The election commission’s latest announcement Thursday night showed that the NLD needs just two more seats to reach the 329 it needs for a majority in the 664-member, two-house Parliament.

Elections were not held in seven constituencies, meaning a simple majority can be reached at 329. The NLD has officially won 217 seats in the lower house — which means it now will have the power to pass bills there — and 110 in the upper house, for a total of 327. The military automatically receives 25 percent of the seats in each house under the constitution.

A party with a combined parliamentary majority is able to select the next president, who can then name a Cabinet and form a new government.

Suu Kyi’s party said it received a message Wednesday from Information Minister Ye Htut on behalf of President Thein Sein congratulating it for leading the race for parliamentary seats.

Ye Htut said the government will pursue a peaceful transfer of power “in accordance with the legislated timeline.” He was not immediately available for comment.

The message helps ease lingering concerns that the military might deny the NLD power, as it did after the party won a landslide election victory in 1990.

It also means that Myanmar is likely to soon have its first government in decades that isn’t under the military’s sway. But while an NLD majority assures it of being able to elect the president, Suu Kyi remains barred from the office by a constitutional provision inserted by the military before it transferred power to Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government in 2011.

Suu Kyi has declared, however, that she will become the country’s de facto leader, acting “above the president” if her party forms the next government, and that the new president will be a figurehead.

President Barack Obama congratulated Suu Kyi for her party’s success in the elections.

In a phone call, Obama commended Suu Kyi for “her tireless efforts and sacrifice over so many years” to promote a peaceful, democratic Myanmar, the White House said.

Obama also called Thein Sein to congratulate the country on its success in conducting the elections and stressed the importance of respecting the outcome, it said.

Myanmar’s military, which took power in a 1962 coup and brutally suppressed several pro-democracy uprisings during its rule, gave way to Thein Sein’s nominally civilian elected government in 2011 — with strings attached.

It installed retired senior officers in the ruling party to fill Cabinet posts and gave itself key powers in the constitution, including control of several powerful ministries and a quarter of the seats in both houses of Parliament. In a state of emergency, a special military-led body can even assume state powers. Another provision bars Suu Kyi from the presidency because her sons hold foreign citizenship.

While Myanmar’s people voted overwhelmingly Sunday to remove the military-backed ruling party from power, it’s clear that the army’s involvement in politics won’t end, and the NLD will need to convince it to cooperate.

If the NLD secures a parliamentary majority, it will gain control over the executive posts under Myanmar’s complicated parliamentary-presidency system.

The military and the largest parties in the upper house and the lower house will each nominate a candidate for president. After Jan. 31, all 664 legislators will cast ballots and the top vote-getter will become president, while the other two will be vice presidents.

Associated Press