The National League for Democracy’s landslide victory in the November 8 general election in Myanmar indicates that a vast majority of its nearly 38 million voters continue to think that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is a bulwark against the military, which ruled the nation with an iron fist for about half a century. While full results are yet to be announced, the Election Commission has stated that her party has won at least 346 of the 476 elected seats in Parliament, well past the 322-mark needed to stay in power. The military-linked main opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party has won 25 seats so far. When Ms. Suu Kyi’s NLD came to power after winning Myanmar’s first truly contested election in 2015, hopes were high that the pro-democracy icon would spearhead the transition into full democracy. Ms. Suu Kyi, who is barred from becoming the President by the military-era Constitution, took the levers of power as the State Counsellor in 2015. But during this time, instead of confronting the Generals or pushing to end the military’s outsized influence, she appeared to have bought peace with them . Her public defence of the Generals’ handling of the operations in Rakhine State that led to the exodus of at least 740,000 Rohingya Muslims dented her image as a pro-democracy fighter and raised questions about her commitment to the country’s transition.
Those who support Ms. Suu Kyi say her critics outside the country do not understand the complexities of Myanmar’s power dynamics. Even though the military allowed free elections, it made sure that its interests were preserved. A bloc of seats in Parliament is reserved for soldiers, which would prevent any amendment to the Constitution. And the military would control three key government ministries, including the Defence Ministry. More importantly, the military continued its campaigns against the country’s ethnic minority rebel groups despite her promise to reach out to them. All these suggest that the power struggle between the popular civilian leadership and the powerful military establishment is an ongoing reality despite the elections. While Ms. Suu Kyi avoided confronting the Generals, she remained a force between the military and the people. In a country where the memories of the military dictatorship are still fresh, it is unsurprising that Ms. Suu Kyi, who built her moral and political capital in the long fight against the junta, remains the most popular leader. But when she begins her second term with another decisive victory, she would face tough questions again. Did she win just to act as a buffer between the Generals and the voters or to lead the country into full democracy? As the elected ruler, she will also have to address allegations of genocide and walk her talk of making peace with the ethnic minority groups.