For most of Myanmar’s 51 million people, the nationwide legislative election on November 8 was their first opportunity to cast a vote in a competitive election. Less than five years after the country’s military junta handed over power to a semi-civilian administration that rapidly undertook many reforms, nearly all of the 498 elected seats in the national assembly were vigorously contested.
The election was not without flaws, particularly in its disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya in the country’s western reaches, but it did offer those with a vote a real choice among the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), led by incumbent President Thein Sein; the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi; and 88 other parties, many of them representing various minority ethnic groups. Most official results have not yet been released, but observers’ tallies at polling places around the country suggest that the NLD is on track to win a majority in both houses of the national legislature.
The NLD performed well despite a number of obstacles, some of them put in place by the ruling party, others of the party’s own making. Incumbent lawmakers from the ruling USDP were well known in their home districts, and had the money for plenty of local largesse over the last two years. By contrast, NLD candidates were young, unknown, and in some states, couldn’t even speak the language of voters in their district, having been chosen primarily for their loyalty to Suu Kyi rather than local ties. Moreover, in many ethnic minority areas, NLD candidates faced down challenges not just from the USDP, but from members of ethnic national parties who were thought to have an advantage on their home turf. It did not matter. The scale of the NLD’s victory across the country is a testament to the enduring popularity of Suu Kyi, and the confidence voters place in her to bring prosperity to Myanmar.
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