Kyaw Zwa Moe: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy. Burma’s general election was held just a couple of days ago. Though the full results of the election have yet to be determined, it is fair to say that the election will be a victory for the people. But at the same time, the politics of our country may possibly become more delicate and also more complicated. Ko Aung Moe Zaw, chairman of the Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS), and political commentator Dr. Yan Myo Thein will join me for the discussion. I’m The Irrawaddy’s English editor, Kyaw Zwa Moe.
Ko Aung Moe Zaw, the full results of the election are still streaming in. Surprisingly, the election turned out to be fair. It is something to be proud of. People have fully expressed their wishes. We have continuously seen signs that the opposition National League for Democracy [NLD] will win. What do you expect will happen between the two sides—the winning party on the one hand, and the current government and military, which has always been involved in the country’s politics, on the other?
Aung Moe Zaw: First of all, everyone should congratulate the people. They have clearly shown their desire for democracy. Personally, I expect that the current government and the military will seriously acknowledge and respect this desire. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has clearly said that her party would form a government of national reconciliation for the country to move forward. Under the 2008 Constitution, a new government is likely to be a coalition. If Daw Aung San Suu Kyi herself or her party, the NLD, can work together with ethnic parties like the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy [SNLD] or the Arakan National Party [ANP], a government of national reconciliation can surely be formed, as she said. Whether this is done largely depends on the military. As the leader of the winning party, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should firstly take steps toward holding talks with the current president and the military.
KZM: Ko Yan Myo Thein, the NLD is winning as it did in the 1990 election. But people are still concerned [given that the ruling regime nullified the 1990 election results]. President U Thein Sein’s government has not yet given its congratulations to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi since the official results are not out yet. In other democracies, congratulations would have been extended by now. President U Thein Sein and army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said on election day that they would accept the results no matter which party wins, even if it is the NLD, and that they would acknowledge the people’s will. I wonder what they are thinking and planning now. What do you think?
Yan Myo Thein: Regarding the election, there was a problem of advance votes in some places. Besides that, generally, the election was free and fair across the country. I think Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD should officially release a statement and say that they are grateful to the people and acknowledge their support for the party. At the same time, democratic forces need to take a practical approach and figure out how they can cooperate with the government and the military to smooth the democratization process in Myanmar, I think. There are certain things that are different from the post-election period in 1990. The major difference is that in the 1990 election, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest. But at present, she is an elected lawmaker and the chairwoman of the NLD. Again, some people believed that because Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD demanded a dialogue to transfer power, the military government at that time refused to hold such a dialogue. But the truth is that the NLD back then demanded an all-inclusive dialogue, and the dialogue was not actually intended to demand a transfer of power. The military leaders at that time were completely unwilling to have dialogue, and that’s why they rejected it.
KZM: Yes, that was the case. But this time, I have found no sign that neither the government nor the military is unwilling to accept the results.
YMT: My view is that the current military leaders are different from those in 1990. Today, they have taken up certain proportions both in the parliament and in the cabinet. According to the Constitution, the military has six positions in the 11-member National Defense and Security Council [NDSC]. We need to take these factors into consideration, I think.
KZM: Though the government and the military have already said that they would accept the election results, how likely, in reality, are they to accept an NLD victory? Everyone still seems to be concerned. International newspapers write that we need to wait and see. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said before the election that she would form a government of national reconciliation, even if she won 100 percent. She has expressed her wish to hold talks, but how willing is the other side to accept it? When can talks be started?
AMZ: I would like to talk more about what Ko Yan Myo Thein has said. The military is in the National Defense and Security Council and holds the most important positions in the cabinet, including the vice presidency, home ministry, defense ministry, and border affairs ministry. The military already has a role in the cabinet and administration. So considering these facts, I don’t think that they would nullify the NLD’s victory today. However, on the ground, I expect to see friction between the [new] government elected by civilians and the military. The civil-military relationship is extremely important, I would say. I think another important thing will be talks with the leaders of the ruling party for power transfer.
KZM: The complete results of the election will be released within two weeks of the election. The parliament will resume during that period. It is scheduled to resume on Nov. 16. If the [election] results are resoundingly positive for the NLD, party leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should start the national reconciliation process when the parliament resumes, I think.
AMZ: The NLD is sure to win. She should now tentatively call for talking about national reconciliation. The NLD is very sure to win. And it won’t be a narrow victory. It will be a win across the country.
KZM: It is likely that the NLD may win more seats than it did in the 1990 election.
AMZ: So it should call for it [national reconciliation talks] now, I think.
KZM: Ko Yan Myo Thein, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi does not need to bring forward a detailed proposal. She only needs to start talking about it. But how should she approach this? The international community and analysts have said that how she approaches this will count a lot.
YMT: As far as I remember, democratic forces have continuously called for dialogue since post-1988. But then, there has yet to be meaningful and fruitful dialogue. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly talked, both before the election and also at present, about a government of national reconciliation. She has said frequently that [those in power] will not lose power, and that a party or an organization alone will not monopolize power. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has said this very clearly. What we need right now is political dialogue held on equal footing. And that dialogue should really work and really help to establish national reconciliation, I think. But Daw Aung San Suu Kyi alone is not responsible for this. The current government, the ruling party and the military are also responsible for this. So I think the president firstly needs to talk with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. This must necessarily be followed by another dialogue between the president, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and an ethnic representative, I think. Importantly, the kind of dialogue that has been organized by the current government should not be held anymore, since this sort of dialogue, while having many participants, has yielded poor results..
AMZ: It is fundamentally because the establishment has continuously prevented talks that dialogue could not be held and that democratization could not be carried out smoothly in our country. The ruling party leader should hold talks on power transfer. It needs to nurture a tradition of power being transferred smoothly to the ones elected by the people in our country. Power must be transferred. Based on this [principle], the current president and the leader of the winning party should hold talks first. The incumbent government has done things like imprisoning political and student activists.
KZM: At present, they are still being detained.
AMZ: Again, the peace process. Students are on a hunger strike now. The current government needs to thoroughly settle these issues and release students before the next government comes to power.
YMT: I think the government should immediately release the students who are being detained at Tharyarwady Prison in connection with the student protests in Letpadan. If not, people may think that these students are being held as political hostages.
KZM: Peace and ethnic issues are also extremely important. How much better do you expect the peace process to work if Daw Aung San Suu Kyi can form the government?
AMZ: Ethnic armed groups may have greater trust in a government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, I think. As a result, the peace process will be swifter and smoother than it has been in the past.
KZM: Ko Aung Moe Zaw, Ko Yan Myo Thein, thank you so much for your contributions. We should praise the Burmese people who have voted bravely.