Though work remains, Union Election Commission (UEC) chairman Tin Aye is happy to say the bulk of his mandate is now behind him, with Burma holding a general election on Nov. 8 that has been largely recognized as a successful exercise of democratic processes. As the arbiter of what was billed as the country’s best chance at a free and fair election in decades, Tin Aye has faced glaring scrutiny both at home and abroad, dogged by questions about his impartiality as an ex-general and former member of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
With a credible Nov. 8 vote in the books and under his belt, Tin Aye spoke to The Irrawaddy’s English editor Kyaw Zwa Moe about what comes next for Burma and its transition to democracy.
Mr. Chairman, congratulations to you on the successful holding of a peaceful election, with the outcome so far being deemed acceptable to the majority of people.
Based on the results released so far, the opposition party is winning. As chairman of the Union Election Commission, do you feel you have completed your duties?
More than 90 percent of the results have been released and it is therefore enough to say that the [full] results are almost out. The election is finished now. However, there is no win-win situation in an election. The winner will be satisfied, but the loser will not and therefore may file complaints. We, according to the law, are responsible for taking care of such complaints. So, we still have duties to perform. We have yet to take on the responsibility of investigating if complaints are filed with us.
Are you surprised by the election results?
Frankly, I’m surprised. Yes, I’m surprised.
Is that because it defies the predictions?
Yes, you could say that. You may also have heard that in the pre-election period, the entire country predicted that a landslide by any one party was very unlikely, and therefore [political parties] might be required to negotiate. There were suggestions that although the National League for Democracy [NLD] was gaining popular support, the Union Solidarity and Development Party [USDP] might nonetheless be able to form a government together with the military [representatives in the legislature].
Not only me, but the entire country suggested so. And the results turned out to be surprising. So, not only me but also others—the winners and the losers, as well as the other parties—are surprised.
It is four months until the next government takes power in March. What are the most serious causes for concern during these four months?
I’ve mentioned [in a previous interview with The Irrawaddy] that the election results must be accepted. I’ve said that I would coax them [the ruling party] if they don’t [accept the outcome]. But now, I need not coax.
Don’t the circumstances require you to coax?
No. The president said before the election that its outcome must be respected and accepted. The commander-in-chief of the Defense Services [Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing] echoed him and said that he would work together with the newly elected government. So, I don’t even need to answer [your] question. I think we need not be worried.
NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has asked President U Thein Sein and the commander-in-chief for talks, particularly on national reconciliation. If the talks don’t go smoothly or fail to achieve the expected outcome, the election results you have announced could be annulled. What plan do you have in the event of such a negative development?
I don’t accept the notion that the election results may be annulled. The election results must be accepted. The outcome must be accepted no matter what.
What if the election outcome is not honored?
Yes, it may not be honored. But then, we would have to ask them to honor the results. I don’t think the leaders of the current government are that irrational. I think they know well what the consequences of rationality and irrationality are. There is no reason to believe that they will act irrationally, considering the consequences.
In other words, I believe that they should accept the results, take whatever role that leaves them and cooperate [with the winning party]. It is not that I say so only now, I’ve said so at every meeting [previously]. I’ve said that after the election concludes, there will be parties that win and parties that lose. The party that wins the majority will be the ruling party, and it should serve the country well; the party that loses should be the opposition, and it should not pervert, not obstruct, but cooperate with the government. I hope they will do so.
There has not been effective cooperation over the past four or five years. There is a saying, ‘Old habits die hard.’ If things continue like this, I fear there won’t be cooperation or dialogue. What do you think?
I’m a national politician [as opposed to a partisan politician]. Our country is lagging behind. [I’ve said], ‘Stop playing the blame game. Review why our country has not achieved development. Then, correct the mistakes and work together for the development of country.’ I have said so since a long time ago. Cooperation is a must to get things done, I would say.
Regarding cooperation, I’d like to talk about the past. You amended some election laws so that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party could run in the 2012 by-election. Did you intentionally do this to help the opposition leader enter Parliament in hopes that it would bring about cooperation? What was the thinking of the government at that time?
I had not expected to take the chairmanship of the Union Election Commission. However, whenever I am assigned duties, I assess my duties and do what I should do. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the president met before that [the 2012 by-election] and I thought that if Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party ran in the election, their relations might get closer and they might be able to talk to each other more. As party leaders and elected lawmakers, their words count for a lot. When they say something, people might be watching, whether they should say it as a lawmaker, a party leader or the government. I think [problems] can be solved if they learn lessons from this [people’s feedback] and work together.
Have you seen greater cooperation between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the president or anyone else, as you expected after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi entered Parliament in 2012, or was there less cooperation?
All of you know it. I don’t think I need to say anything about it.
How fair was political parties’ conduct during this election? Some parties did things like donating money and giving money to attendees of their rallies, which was deemed to be vote-buying. Most of the allegations were against the USDP and there were complaints. What do you plan to do regarding this?
I will do nothing regarding this. I have told you, the ruling party and other political parties, that the ruling party had some advantages. In the international community, it is also usual [that a ruling party has incumbent advantages over other parties].
You told me that in the previous interview.
So, I told them [political parties] to understand that, and that I have nothing to say about that and that they [other political parties] would do the same if they were in power.
The results are surprising. So, are your old friends from the USDP annoyed with you?
I am doing the right thing and there is no reason that they should be annoyed with me. If they hold a grudge for this, I can only let them do so. But then, there is no reason that they would hold a grudge against me because it is typical of me to do like that. They would not hold a grudge. They will be upset because of the loss. I understand this. There is no reason that they would have a grudge against me. Even if they do, it may bother me but I won’t blame them. It is quite a normal response, human nature.
We have seen many political tricks from authorities or political parties in our country. As I’ve said, old habits die hard. Do you see any sign of political tricks in the next four, five months? The election has been held successfully, but how smooth will the transition be? People are concerned. What scenarios do you envision playing out?
I have said before that whatever it is, it must be for the sake of the country. Regarding scenarios, it depends on the fate of the country. But then, I don’t think our citizens are that naïve [to be tricked].
But given lingering mistrust, can the country’s leaders really sit around a table and talk to each other?
There are two parts regarding this question. The loser has fewer advantages [bargaining power] and therefore it may or may not talk. It depends on how magnanimous they are [to accept defeat]. The winner also may not talk. They may think, why the need to be subservient after they have gained the upper hand? You’d better ask them rather than me.
I can only express my wish, and call for working harmoniously together. That’s all I can say. It is, however, up to them. They will act according to their thoughts, beliefs and views. I just express my belief that it is best if things can be settled peacefully.
Most say that the election has been fair. Is it a historic milestone for Myanmar? Has it served as a bridge to national reconciliation and a better future for the country?
You are talking about views. To talk about my view: I have carried out my duties to the best of my ability. It is up to the implementers to choose between working together or regressing. I have done my best, I have fulfilled my duties. As I have fulfilled my duties, they need to fulfill theirs.
Here, I would like to call for considering [what is best] for the sake of the country and fulfilling one’s own duties. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had suggested sanctions be imposed for national development of the country. I have told her here, in this room, that to make the sanctions lifted and that attempts should never be made to break up the military. What is an election? It is the selection of people’s representatives to be sent to Parliament. The election commission is obliged to undertake this process fairly. I have completed this process thanks to the efforts of [election] subcommissions at the different levels.
They [MPs-elect] will get into the Parliament, and form the government and exercise executive power; the Parliament will exercise legislative power; and appointed judges will exercise judicial power. It is up to them to strive for the development of the country through checks and balances. It is up to them whether to join hands and work shoulder to shoulder, or walk in opposite directions. It [political stakeholders’ collaboration or non-collaboration] will determine the fate of the country. As for me, I’ve accomplished my duties.