RANGOON, Burma — Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the likely victor in Burma’s elections held Sunday, wasted no time Wednesday getting down to business, setting a meeting with the former and current military men now in charge to talk about a smooth transfer of power.
Both President Thein Sein, a former army general, and the country’s top general have congratulated Suu Kyi on her party’s lead in the landmark parliamentary elections, moving a step closer toward a power transfer in a nation once under strict military rule.
Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, said President Thein Sein’s spokesman called after Burma’s election commission released results for 40 percent of the vote showing that the NLD was winning by large margins. Although no official concession statement from Thein Sein or his Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has been immediately issued, the gestures from Burmese leaders appeared to make that a formality.
Thein Sein’s office posted a statement on its Facebook page that said, “Our government will respect the people’s decision and choice and will hand over power as scheduled.”
Meanwhile, Suu Kyi’s inched ever closer to the 329 seats needed to have a majority in Parliament, garnering 273 to the USDP’s 81 in counting so far.
Suu Kyi, 70, went ahead with plans to meet with Thein Sein to discuss making good on that pledge, and she wrote to him and two other leaders to stress a need to respect the people’s will. The pro-democracy leader was reelected to the parliament in Sunday’s vote, results showed Wednesday.
The NLD is expecting enough victories to control the legislature, which has two houses totaling 664 seats, 25 percent of which are reserved for military appointees. Seven seats representing areas where there is conflict with armed ethnic groups are not being contested. The NLD thus needs a combined 329 seats in the two houses to give it a majority and allow it to choose the next president.
Burma, which was ruled by a military regime for decades, will move toward a new government in the coming weeks after millions voted Sunday in what observers said was a reasonably fair and peaceful election. The installation of a new government is not expected to take place until early next year.
The outcome of the elections probably will be a triumph for Suu Kyi, who spent a total of 15 years under military-imposed house arrest in her fight for democracy and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
Analysts say the weeks ahead will be a crucial test to see whether Burma’s generals — who ran the country for more than 50 years before beginning democratic reforms in 2010 — are in favor of anything more than what they call “disciplined democracy.”
“A peaceful implementation of the people’s desire, which they expressed via the November 8 election, is very important for the country’s dignity and people’s peace of mind,” Suu Kyi wrote in letters Wednesday to three men: Thein Sein; Shwe Mann, the speaker of the parliament’s lower house; and Min Aung Hlaing, the powerful Burmese army general who holds the title of commander in chief.
Shwe Mann, who said in an online statement that he would meet with Suu Kyi, was the head of the ruling USDP until August, when he was relieved of his position and escorted from his offices by security guards, possibly over his moves to ally with Suu Kyi. He lost his seat in the parliament in Sunday’s voting.
Although Burma, also known as Myanmar, is officially run by a quasi-civilian government, the military controls key levers of power. Even if Suu Kyi’s party wins an overwhelming majority of seats in both houses of the parliament and forms a new government without coalition partners, provisions of the country’s military-drafted 2008 constitution guarantee that a large measure of military control will continue.
The NLD “can’t govern on its own, but it can govern in partnership with the military,” said Priscilla Clapp, a former U.S. diplomat in Burma and a senior adviser to the Washington-based U.S. Institute of Peace.
William Branigin in Washington contributed to this report.