Myanmar military offers olive branch as Suu Kyi poll win nears

Myanmar’s military establishment pledged Thursday to ensure a smooth transition of power as Aung San Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy party stood on the verge of a crushing election win.

The country has been dominated by the military for half a century through direct junta rule and — since 2011 — by a quasi-civilian government run by its allies.

But the balance of power is almost certain to shift to Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

It has captured more than 80 percent of seats declared so far from Sunday’s election — a huge stride in the party’s long democracy struggle.

By Thursday afternoon the NLD was just 38 seats short of hitting the magical figure of 329 to claim a majority across both houses of parliament.

It appears set to smash through that marker and rack up a big majority, an outcome that appears to have prodded the conciliatory messages from the military and its political allies.

In statements posted on Facebook, Thein Sein and the powerful army chief Min Aung Hlaing congratulated Suu Kyi’s party, promised to respect the poll result and work with the new government.

The army chief repeated his position to military top brass, vowing “co-operation with the new government during the post-election period,” according to a statement on his Facebook page Thursday.

Many NLD supporters remain deeply suspicious of the army and its proxies, who are notorious for political sleight of hand and crackdowns that have left hundreds dead and thousands jailed.

The NLD won a 1990 election by a landslide only for the junta to ignore the result and tighten its grip on power.

A generation later Suu Kyi has called for “national reconciliation”, stressing the need for a peaceful power shift in a nation whose journey towards democracy has been marred by state violence.

In an indication of the political maze ahead, NLD spokesman Nyan Win said the talks are “our first move.”

— Obama ‘calls’ —

After decades cloistered from the world by the military and driven into penury, Myanmar caught the eye of the world after it creaked open in 2011 under a semi-civilian government.

Most sanctions were rolled back in lock-step with the greater freedoms.

US President Barack Obama has thrown his weight behind Myanmar’s reform process and its pro-democracy figurehead Suu Kyi, twice visiting the country in that time.

Obama “called President Thein Sein this morning to congratulate him and the government for successfully holding a historic free and fair general election,” Myanmar’s Information Minister Ye Htut said on his official Facebook page.

The American leader has urged the country to tackle religious intolerance and promote full democracy. He has also highlighted the plight of the ethnic Rohingya Muslims, tens of thousands of whom were excluded from voting.

There was no immediate confirmation of the call by US officials or information on if the president had sent a message to Suu Kyi.

– Ruling party battered –

While its political proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), faces annihilation at the polls, the army has its stake in future already guaranteed.

Under a constitution it wrote, 25 percent of all parliamentary seats are reserved for military appointees.

It also controls Myanmar’s security apparatus and key government posts — meaning it will retain immense practical powers.

Suu Kyi’s own path to power is also blocked by the 2008 constitution that bars anyone with foreign children — or a foreign husband — from the presidency.

Her sons are British as was her late husband — who died in Britain while she was under house arrest in Myanmar.

‘Mother Suu’, as she is affectionately known, has said a democratic government would not seek to punish historic abuses by the military.

But ahead of elections she struck a defiant note, saying she would take a position “above the president” in the event of an NLD win.

Now her party is poised for power it is likely she will put forward a proxy for the role, an appointment aided by a large majority.

Shwe Mann, a former general who is also a parliamentary speaker, has been previously tipped as a compromise candidate for the top office.

He was also invited to talks with Suu Kyi despite being sidelined by the USDP and losing his seat in the election.


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