The world has occasionally been witness to memorable moments of democratic triumph. Famous examples include Nelson Mandela walking out of jail and being elected as South Africa’s president, Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva storming to the presidency in Brazil in 2003 as the representative of the poor and Barack Obama’s win in 2008 as the symbol of overcoming racial differences in the United States. The world awaits a similar moment from Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, who has at various times dramatically returned from long spells of incarceration to worshipping crowds but has been deprived of a one-off contest to secure power comprehensively.
This has not happened as the military in Myanmar has gamed the contest to thwart Ms Suu Kyi’s ambitions. The generals have allowed her to contest parliamentary elections but have passed laws that prevent her from being president as she was married to a foreigner. The military responded to international criticism and isolation by allowing democratic processes but it reserved 25% of the seats for itself in parliament to prevent constitutional change. Ms Suu Kyi has indefatigably marched on, leading her National League for Democracy (NLD) in the parliamentary election on November 8. The NLD needs to win all the contested seats and engineer defections among those nominated by the army to amend the constitution so that Ms Suu Kyi can contest in the presidential elections in March. The election result is as yet uncertain, even though the NLD claims it has the majority. The counting of results has been frustratingly slow; an NLD spokesman accused the election commission of delaying the results intentionally “because maybe they want to play a trick or something”.
The next few weeks and months will be crucial. The NLD is expected do well but not enough to force changes on its own. Ms Suu Kyi has many challenges ahead. She has a military that is reluctant to let go of power to contend with, resurgent Buddhist nationalists to manage and ethnic groups to cultivate to keep her mobilising power intact. She will soon face the choice of installing a president of her choice or press on with constitutional reform to realise her ambition of becoming president. She has been strikingly clearheaded about the pursuit of power, saying that she wants to be leader of government even if she is not president — and she has weathered international criticism over her silence about the suffering of Rohingya Muslims, lest an activist stance derail her chances of attaining office. Ms Suu Kyi perhaps believes in Theodor Herzl’s motto: “If you will it, it is no dream.”