Reuters Aung San Suu Kyi in Kawhmu Township, March 22, 2012.

The Lady's Challengers

How the Election Will Affect Democracy in Myanmar

On a Saturday in late October, a convoy of taxis snaked its way through a small village 12 miles south of Yangon. In one of the jeeps, Myanmar’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, waved to the crowds that lined the roadsides. Onlookers responded with cheers. Once onstage, Suu Kyi articulated her vision for the country, one that looked beyond the nationwide elections on November 8. She wanted to create more jobs, improve the infrastructure, and empower citizens.

It’s a vision that all parties here espouse, but only Suu Kyi, known as “the Lady,” has anything close to a monopoly on the people’s trust. This is reflected in the feverish excitement that follows her wherever she goes. Although her detractors may have grown in number, and she has faced relentless attacks from a new crop of Buddhist nationalist groups that allege that she is supportive of a campaign by Muslims to Islamize the country, she is still always greeted by cheering masses. Many in the country believe that if she and her party are able to win enough seats in the elections to form a majority, then their hopes for democracy in Myanmar will finally become a reality.

Even though Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party will likely win, a simple majority of votes may not mean a majority of seats. The constitution, which was drawn up by the military in 2008, reserves 25 percent of the seats for the Tatmadaw, the Burmese army. The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is closely aligned with the military—all senior party officials are former military men. In turn, Myanmar’s old guard will maintain a strong influence on the parliament—the 110 military members of parliament provide an effective veto over any amendments to the constitution, which requires more than 75 percent of the parliamentary vote to change.

Another challenge for the NLD is the smaller ethnic parties that hold sway in the border regions. These parties, including the Arakan National

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