RANGOON — Few trusted Burma’s Union Election Commission (UEC) Chairman Tin Aye when he first took up the role in 2011.
As a former general, a former ruling party lawmaker and a close associate of President Thein Sein, many Burmese took it for granted that Tin Aye would be far from impartial in carrying out his duties.
But after a largely peaceful vote on Sunday, with only isolated reports of electoral irregularities, and with the vote count showing a huge win for Burma’s main opposition party, the 70-year-old former general may have proven his critics wrong.
There were some shortcomings in the conduct of Burma’s first credible nationwide poll in 25 years. Voter list errors; the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of people; a lack of access to voting stations in military barracks; and an opaque advance voting process were among the issues cited by political parties and election observers.
However, there were no reports of pervasive fraud or intimidation on election day and the result itself, which has seen the ruling party dramatically toppled from its legislative ascendancy, is partial vindication that the vote was largely free and fair.
Many observers and media outlets were rightly skeptical of whether Tin Aye could serve as a fair arbiter of the election. Indeed, in public comments the chairman has talked openly about his strong ties to the military and the party he served.
But as the results of Sunday’s poll became clear, everyone was surprised. The NLD has now officially secured the parliamentary majority required to select Burma’s next president. Thein Sein and Burma’s commander-in-chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing have acknowledged the NLD’s victory and congratulated the party’s chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi.
National reconciliation across ethnic, political and institutional lines is key to Burma’s future. The incumbent president and army chief are integral to that process.
The millions of Burmese who voted for change on election day expect just that. All will be watching to see that the establishment’s old authoritarian tactics do not resurface.
Tin Aye deserves recognition for facilitating a credible vote that reflects the will of the people. He has helped build a bridge on which key political and army stakeholders can walk toward a more prosperous future for the country.