Feature

Aung San Suu Kyi's win: Is Myanmar embracing democracy?

The famous activist and her party dominate parliamentary elections, signalling a potentially major shift for the notoriously repressive Asian nation

Nobel-winning Burmese democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party won big on Sunday, in Myanmar's first real elections since 1990. The NLD says it has won 43 or 44 of the 45 seats up for grabs, with the last seat going to the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) of President Thein Sein and his military-backed government. "We hope that this will be the beginning of a new era," said a jubilant Suu Kyi, who recently spent 15 years under house arrest. Before Suu Kyi can take office, the military government must certify the results. (After the NLD's massive victory in 1990, the military nullified the election.) Can democracy finally take root in the repressive Southeast Asian nation?

It's a mixed bag: Even if the NLD won all 45 of the seats, it wouldn't really "shift the balance of power away from the military-dominated USDP," says Andrew Buncombe in Britain's The Independent. Remember, the USDP still holds the other 664 seats in parliament. But things are certainly looking up. "Freedoms beget further freedoms, participation breeds a sense of entitlement, and a media that is now enjoying unprecedented freedoms feels increasingly emboldened."
"Freedoms beget freedoms as voters have their say"

Burmese democracy's still a bad bet: "Optimists say that this election marks a watershed," but it's also a huge gamble for Suu Kyi, says Christian Caryl at Foreign Policy. Myanmar is "still a profoundly non-democratic political system," and the ruling junta might give the NLD only token representation so the government can win legitimacy  — and foreign investment. Suu Kyi's party believes it can reform the constitution, but "it's hard to imagine how they'll be able to," considering the military's "dominant presence." Really, "don't hold your breath."
"The Lady's leap of faith"

Let Myanmar celebrate a big win: "Any number of troubling scenarios could well play out," says Hannah Beech at TIME. The USDP's "humiliating" loss could spark an anti-democracy backlash, Suu Kyi could prove a lousy legislator, or the election could still be stolen. But on the festive streets of Rangoon and elsewhere, it "felt like a tipping point in Burma's bloody political history," and whatever happens later, today is "not for speculation but celebration."
"The opposition claims victory as Burma revels in the freedom from fear"

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