Efforts to weaken the military’s involvement in politics are essential if Myanmar is to promote democratisation and achieve domestic stability. Aung San Suu Kyi’s ability to take action is being called into question.
In the Myanmar general election, the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), led by State Counsellor Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of the government, won more than 80 per cent of the seats up for grabs, maintaining its sole majority. Suu Kyi’s popularity has been demonstrated, but the future will be difficult.
The NLD won a landslide in the previous election in 2015, marking a shift from the military-centred political rule that lasted more than half a century. However, the Constitution that was established under the military regime allocates one-fourth of the seats to military personnel, and the military still has a certain amount of influence.
The ruling party’s victory over the main opposition party, which developed from the military regime, may reflect public wariness regarding a return to military-led politics.
There has been little progress on revising the Constitution and ending the civil war between the military and ethnic minorities, issues that Suu Kyi included in her campaign pledges. Under these circumstances, she cannot avoid being criticised for a poor track record.
Ethnic minority parties dissatisfied with the government split with the ruling party and won seats independently. This should be interpreted as disappointment over the excessive consideration for the military. If Suu Kyi fails to achieve results in the future, her power to unify is certain to decline.
The economy has also failed to grow. Problems including delays in infrastructure development and the corrupt nature of bureaucrats and others have hampered investment from abroad. The administration bears a heavy responsibility for failing to solve problems that have long been pointed out.
Suu Kyi, who led the pro-democracy movement under military rule, faced oppression through such means as house arrest. Despite this, criticism of the government has become the target of crackdowns, even under the current administration. It betrays the expectations of the international community that supports Suu Kyi.
Suu Kyi also has shown no presence regarding the issue of the persecuted Islamic minority Rohingya, about 700,000 of whom have become refugees and fled to neighbouring Bangladesh. The US and European countries are increasingly criticising Myanmar, calling the situation a grave humanitarian crisis.
In Myanmar, where 90 per cent of the people are Buddhists, feelings of discrimination against the Rohingya are so strong that the issue did not surface as a point of contention in the election. However, the problem must not be allowed to be left unaddressed. Suu Kyi must accelerate such measures as granting nationality to the Rohingya that will lead to the return of refugees.
Stability in Myanmar is extremely important for Japan, which advocates a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” A large number of Japanese companies are also operating in Myanmar. The Japanese government needs to step up its assistance to promote national reconciliation and economic development.
THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN (JAPAN)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK