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In pictures: Myanmar’s elections

Photo: Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP/Press Association Images

On 8th November 2015, Myanmar had its first openly contested election in 25 years. As a leader of the Carter Center’s electoral observation mission, Bhojraj Pokharel had a unique view of the entire process. We talked to him about Aung San Suu Kyi’s remarkable victory and what it’s like to witness the rebirth of a democracy. Here are some of the best photos from the DG #21 article alongside highlights from our interview with Pokharel.

“There were times I didn’t think Myanmar would ever see a fair election. I first became involved in December 2013 when I had two roles: to share best practices of democratic elections with Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC) and to help the political parties write their ethical code of conduct. The goal was to create a level playing field for a free and open election in a country that isn’t used to experiencing one. It wasn’t an easy task.

By the end, everyone was invested. At a ceremony on 26th June, 69 political parties signed the code of conduct. Opposing forces had come together. We had the basis for a successful election – but there was still a long way to go.”


Aung San Suu Kyi greets supporters during a campaign rally in Yangon on 1st November. Photo: AP/Press Association Images/Gemunu Amarasinghe

“As campaigning started I worried whether the election would be a success as the parties felt stifled and the public frustrated. Then the Union Election Commission, against the expectations of nearly everyone, relaxed the campaign rules: the candidates were allowed access to the people and the momentum started to build. The government supported this direction, particularly for the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi. It does raise the question of why Suu Kyi got special treatment and, no matter how well-intentioned, whether such treatment undermined the entire process.”

myanmar03 An NLD supporter celebrates outside the party headquarters on 9th November. The UEC didn’t post the official results until 13th November, but local wins gave the party confidence early on. Photo: AP/Press Association Images/Gemunu Amarasinghe

An NLD supporter celebrates outside the party headquarters on 9th November. The UEC didn’t post the official results until 13th November, but local wins gave the party confidence early on. Photo: AP/Press Association Images/Gemunu Amarasinghe

“The celebrations started as soon as votes began to be counted – people were dancing in the streets. The NLD secured a thumping victory with an astronomical margin: 79 percent of 323 elected seats in the lower house and 80 percent of 168 seats in the upper house. The state assemblies reflected similar results. This all echoed the party’s ferocious victory in 1990. Then, the military reacted by rejecting the results and placing Suu Kyi under house arrest. This time around, the military and the main ruling party publicly recognised the NLD’s victory.”


Aung San Suu Kyi shakes hands with the army’s commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing, on 2nd December. Photo: AP/Press Association Images/Aung Shine Oo

“There is a huge weight of expectation on Suu Kyi’s shoulders as her party prepares to assume office on 1st April 2016. The people believe she will give them democracy and freedom, and Myanmar peace and development. That is why they voted for her. But the constitution is so restrictive that – despite her majority – it will be impossible for her to give them everything they want or everything she wants to give them. She needs to secure more than 75 percent of votes in parliament to change the constitution, which is not possible without the support of the military. Convincing the army to change is a huge task. She has a strong vision for the country, but how much will she be able to realise this within the framework of a restricted parliament? She has to implement her liberal policies within an establishment whose mindset is influenced by a decades-long dictatorship.

But Myanmar deserves a brief moment of euphoria before addressing these questions. The people have started to be heard and that is the most important thing in a country that for so long has ignored them.”

This is an excerpt from ‘Democracy Rising’, which appeared in issue #21 of Delayed Gratification. To read the full story, buy the issue in our shop or take out an annual subscription with promo code ‘SOCIAL20’ and we’ll send you this issue for free.


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