Exactly five years ago, on the evening of 13th November 2010, crowds gathered outside the barricaded checkpoint blocking off University Avenue in Yangon, Myanmar. The contrasting picture on the other side of the barricade was a menacing regiment of heavily armed soldiers in full riot-gear. Despite the presence of hundreds of people who had slowly gathered, I specifically remember the air being still and tense.
This was the scene outside Aung San Suu Kyi’s house, who had been under house arrest for over 15 years. As dusk began to fall around 6PM, the barricades were finally removed and this moment would mark the day the democratic icon was finally set free. Her speech the following day would be attended by thousands of people.
Fast-forward to today, where crowds have gathered again for the lady – but for a different purpose – to celebrate the election results that were officially announced by the Union Election Committee. With the National League for Democracy gaining more than 87% of the votes cast, calling the election results a landslide victory for Aung San Suu Kyi would actually be an understatement. The Irrawaddy simply called it a “Supermajority”.
Five years ago, no one would have expected Aung San Suu Kyi to be on her way to leading the entire country, and yet today this is exactly what is happening in Myanmar. For the people, this remarkable day truly represents a major stepping stone as the country seems poised to finally redirect its course towards a true democracy.
As meaningful and worthy as this day is for a celebration, we are humbly reminded of the many challenges that lie ahead for the people of Myanmar. The country is riddled with ethnic conflict, racial-religious tensions run high, and power is still very much in the hands of the military and their cronies. The next hurdle will be a peaceful transfer of power to the NLD, and when they finally step in as the new government in 2016, the true strength of the country’s young democracy will see its first real test. This leap of faith can easily lead to peril and setbacks, as with Thailand and the Arab spring.
Thus, huge expectations rest on the shoulders of this woman, and her party members, who have only so far been activists against the military’s control, and have yet to prove themselves as competent politicians and legislators. The solidarity displayed by the people in the past weeks shows encouraging signs of promise, but there are also several hanging questions regarding the actual efforts each of us as citizens are willing to contribute down the road.
The next five years will be equally, if not more, challenging than the past five and I am reminded of a similarity to U.S. President Barack Obama’s first term after the confetti cleared and all eyes were fixed on his every move and nobody hesitated to put the blame on him. All of us wish for a happy fairy-tale ending to the political story in Myanmar, but we cannot expect Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD to move mountains alone overnight.
All this of course, does not change nor diminish in any way their well-deserved election victory. But as much as we would all like to pop the champagne and congratulate each other, perhaps Friday the 13th just isn’t as lucky as we’d like.