Myanmar's Suu Kyi wins seat as expected, but presidency out of reach

Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has won her parliamentary seat, official results showed Wednesday, leading a near total sweep by her party that will give the country its first government in decades that isn't under the military's sway.

Suu Kyi, however, will not become the president, at least not for now, because of a constitutional hurdle inserted by the junta when it transferred power in 2011 to a quasi-civilian government. And while Myanmar's people voted overwhelmingly to remove the military-backed party from power, it's also clear that the military's involvement in this Southeast Asian nation's politics would not end.

"Sunday's poll does not mark democracy's triumph in Burma," said Ellen Bork of Foreign Policy Initiative, a Washington-based think-tank. "Over the past few years, it has become obvious that the military and its political proxy (the ruling party) were not actually interested in a democratic transition that required them to relinquish their power."

The military, which took power in a 1962 coup and brutally suppressed several pro-democracy uprisings during its rule, gave way to a nominally civilian elected government in 2011 — with strings attached.

The army installed retired senior officers in the ruling party to fill Cabinet posts and granted itself constitutional powers, including control of powerful ministries and a quarter of seats in the 664-member two-chamber Parliament. In a state of emergency, a special military-led body can even assume state powers. Another provision bars Suu Kyi from the presidency because her sons hold foreign citizenship.

Right now, though, the focus is on the stunning, if not yet official, victory of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party over the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party.

The Union Election Commission announced 63 more results for Parliament's lower house on Wednesday, which included Suu Kyi's name as the victor from Kawhmu, which is part of Yangon state.

It said she won 54,676 votes without giving more details of how many the losing ruling party candidate won or how many eligible voters were in the constituency.

Of the remaining 60 seats, the NLD won 56 seats, and USDP won three.

That brings to 135 the number of seats won by NLD out of the 151 lower house seats announced so far. For the upper house, the NLD has won 29 out of 33 announced.

NLD co-founder Tin Oo told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the party expects win about 80 percent of the votes — putting it on pace with the party's 1990 landslide that the military annulled.

"The NLD's big victory is best seen as the first step of a negotiation that is going to play out in the coming weeks and months between the elected power of the NLD, and entrenched, constitutionally guaranteed military power," said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of New York-based Human Rights Watch.

When the former ruling junta drew up the 2008 constitution, he said, "they built a political structure that keeps Aung San Suu Kyi out of the presidency and locks in their influence and prerogatives, with things like 25 percent of the seats reserved for the military, a 75 percent approval bar to amend the constitution, no legislative scrutiny of military budgets, and ensuring only military men can lead the most powerful ministries, like Defense, Home Affairs and Border Affairs."

"So, even with the people behind her, Aung San Suu Kyi will face problems — because if she tries to force her way with the military, it will be like banging her head against the wall," said Robertson.

Because the military still controls important political decisions, said Toe Kyaw Hlaing, an independent political analyst in Myanmar, the NLD and other political parties have to cooperate with the military.

"But I think the NLD will happily cooperate with them since one of their mandates is 'National Reconciliation,' he said. "They are the important group in Parliament that shouldn't be ignored. There must be cooperation and the NLD will have to convince the military to cooperate with them."

In 1990, the army annulled the election results after a landslide victory by the NLD. But that kind of response is not widely expected this time. The military is invested in the freed-up economy that semi-democracy has brought as Western nations eased their trade and investment sanctions in response to political liberalization. And the military always has its constitutional safeguards to fall back on.

The delay in announcing official returns has raised concern, with NLD spokesman Win Htein telling reporters that the election commission has been "delaying intentionally because maybe they want to play a trick or something."

Suu Kyi told the BBC she does not expect the army to steal away her party's election victory, as it did in 1990.

"They've been saying repeatedly they'll respect the will of the people and that they will implement the results of the election," she said, adding Myanmar's citizens are now politically more aware and that new forms of communications serve a watchdog function.

If the NLD secures a two-thirds majority of the Parliamentary seats at stake — a likely scenario now — it would gain control over the executive posts under Myanmar's complicated parliamentary-presidency system.

The military and the largest parties in the upper house and the lower house will each nominate a candidate for president. After Jan. 31, all 664 legislators will cast ballots and the top vote-getter will become president, while the other two will be vice presidents.

Although she is barred by the constitution from becoming president, Suu Kyi recently has declared that she will be the country's de facto leader, acting "above the president," if her party forms the next government.


Associated Press writers Vijay Joshi in Yangon and Jocelyn Gecker in Bangkok contributed to this report.