Winning the election was the easy part. Provided that there was no fraud or interference by the military, the NLD was sure to win – and it did. Now that the NLD has defeated the military-backed USDP, it must now face the goliath itself – the military. Central to its calculus in dealing with the military must be the question: why the military has even allowed the largely free and fair elections to go forth? Yes, people – including the senior figures of the USDP – have said it is because of changed times: different people, and a constitution. These are definitely true. But are these valid for the military?
The elections were a blow for the USDP, which only won 41 parliamentary seats. The military, however, has not lost anything; in fact, they stand firmly where they are, much like where they were before. The Constitution grants them enormous powers none of which have eroded or will diminish just because of an NLD government. The military will select one Vice President; will select Ministers of Home, Border and Defense; and, through its 25% reserved seats in Parliament, hold an effective veto over any constitutional change. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has said that constitutional change would be one of the NLD-led government’s priorities. But to do so, she must first convince all elected members of Parliament first, then the military, to assent to change. Even thinking about it creates a headache. The process will induce a migrane.
Now is the time to work ever more closely with the military. The military has the trump card: national security. And there is no reason to suggest it won’t use it. History, in fact, tells they are more than willing to use it. Perhaps, they are already waving this trump card in the air with the recent strikes against Shan State Army-North. These strikes do not bring the parties that have not signed the recent “nationwide ceasefire” accord closer to the negotiating table. The NLD should firmly remember that the nationwide ceasefire’s long delay was due primarily to the military’s resistance. When President U Thein Sein requested the military in 2013 to stop its strikes against Kachin Independence Army, his calls fell on deaf ears: the military kept on fighting. The military took two more years to accept the use of the word “federalism” in negotiations. The NLD must make sure that the military does not become a bane to any reform or progress it wishes to make.
A policy of accommodation, however, cannot become a policy of appeasement. While maintaining the need to work with the military, the NLD must make it clear what its goals are. At the same time, the NLD will face pressure from below— from the people. The NLD is already feeling the weight of public expectations, but it must not rush to satisfy all that is demanded by popular will. Hard compromises will have to be sought: in the name of peace, issues of justice might have to be buried. The formation of an NLD government will be the first of many steps to come to finally remove the military’s five decade long incarnation of the country. The next five years might just be Daw Suu’s biggest struggle.