THE National League for Democracy (NLD) secured the magic 329 seats required to hold a majority in national parliament today, officially enabling the office once described as a “cowshed” to wrest power away from the military backed government in Burma (Myanmar).
With almost 90 percent of seats now declared, Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD have the two-thirds required to control parliament and choose the president. The result officially ends decades of military rule.
In 2011 in a BBC radio address Suu Kyi likened her party headquarters to having “a ramshackle rough-hewn air of a shelter intended for hardy folk” that was full of “ordinary looking people”.
In the not too distant past even the boldest of supporters or the odd tourist crept quietly past its modest doors and “ordinary” leaders just as they were censored, confined, beaten and imprisoned. Locals living right outside its doors have also described to Asian Correspondent the periods when they would lock their doors in fear and only emerge with white flags in hand.
Since the Sunday elections however, in the more open climate that is modern day Burma, they have come in their thousands with cars and red flags as television screens and loudspeakers have broadcast the desire of a people to be free of an oppressive and authoritarian system.
English language consultant, Melody, who has been in Yangon since 2005, has spent numerous evenings outside the NLD headquarters over the past few days. She said the experience had given her a palpable “sense of something coming to fruition that had been planted in people’s hearts many years ago”.
For Suu Kyi and her “ordinary” people that dream has been a long time in the making. And while the NLD’s once young dissidents have aged and lines now mark their faces, including that of their ever youthful looking leader, the passion for the cause does not seem to have cooled.
And with a population that Suu Kyi herself told the BBC this week was far “more politicised”, it may be they are banking on more youthful participants amongst their members, although they have already announced that there is fresh blood in their ranks.
The Sea Globe reports:
“The party claims 12% of its candidates are under 35 years of age and that another 40% are aged between 35 and 50. …
“(But) by the next national election in 2020, she (Suu Kyi) will be 75 years of age, and it is far from clear who will replace her once she leaves active politics. This is reflected more broadly in the party’s greying upper ranks. Tin Oo, the party’s emeritus chairman and one of Suu Kyi’s closest allies, is 88; Nyan Win, the party’s long-time spokesman, is 72; Win Tin, the famous dissident journalist who co-founded the NLD, died in 2014 at the age of 84.”
Along with the need for youthful blood and a possible replacement for Suu Kyi, there has also been much commentary on the changes needed in Burma for lasting change and the possible disenfranchisement that may come to bear should this not be realised.
Melody said the greatest challenge for the nation will be the corporate responsibility needed to carry the dream through to completion.
“It is not just the government’s responsibility it is everyone’s responsibility … to be part of the change they are longing to see from cleaner streets (don’t spit, drop rubbish) to healing and reconciliation between the many tribal groups. Will they overcome the institutional prejudice that exists to begin to honour one another and listen to one another?”
Whatever lies ahead for the NLD and the nation, it seems one of the first priorities is getting the “cowshed” in order – the current HQ is being replaced by a new tall building. As building work goes forward with new architects, the building itself seems a metaphor for a nation under construction.
And as Suu Kyi and the NLD prepare to run the nation from the newly vamped cowshed, it’s worth noting that the Reith lecture in which she first made that reference was recorded in secret and smuggled out of the country in 2011. While much has changed in those four years, her words about the potential for lasting change from such humble beginnings do not.
“Since this remark is usually made with a sympathetic and often admiring smile, we do not take offence,” Suu Kyi said about the cowshed reference. “After all, didn’t one of the most influential movements in the world begin in a cowshed?”