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Aung San Suu Kyi's Party Is Expected To Win Myanmar's Election


We're going to redirect our focus for a few minutes and talk about another election, the one happening in the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar this weekend. It's the second election since the military transferred absolute power in 2011. Michael Sullivan reports from Bangkok.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Unlike the U.S. election, this one really isn't in doubt - a second term for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy

DAVID MATHIESON: It's almost a foregone conclusion that the NLD will get back in for a variety of reasons, most of which is Aung San Suu Kyi's undiminished domestic popularity.

SULLIVAN: David Mathieson is an independent political analyst based in Myanmar's largest city, Yangon. Phil Robertson is deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

PHIL ROBERTSON: Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy government were elected in a landslide in 2015, including with ethnic votes, because it was expected that they would represent everybody. But increasingly what we're seeing is she is primarily interested just in the ethnic Burmans, who comprise 65% of the voters.

SULLIVAN: The majority of whom were OK with Myanmar's military launching its brutal campaign against the Muslim minority Rohingya in 2017, which led roughly 750,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. It also led to charges of genocide against Myanmar and a U.N. tribunal at The Hague last year. Aung San Suu Kyi went to The Hague to personally lead Myanmar's defense.

MARY CALLAHAN: She stood up for a nation, race and religion, not for the army but for nation, race and religion.

SULLIVAN: That's Mary Callahan, another Yangon-based analyst and associate professor of international studies at the University of Washington. She notes discrimination against the Rohingya continues in this election, with a vast majority barred from voting. Richard Horsey wrote the latest International Crisis Group report on this election.

RICHARD HORSEY: They weren't allowed to vote in the last election in 2015 either. So that group has been disenfranchised, and that's part of the systematic denial of citizenship.

SULLIVAN: And they're not the only ones disenfranchised. Last month, the election commission cancelled voting in several conflict areas home to large minority populations. And if minority parties in general fail to win enough seats, says Mary Callahan, it's not clear what happens next.

CALLAHAN: Maybe it means, for some, they give up on it at all and just decide armed resistance is the only answer, especially for young people who will wonder why they've been bothering with a system that really doesn't serve them at all.

SULLIVAN: A system where Myanmar's mainly Buddhist Burman military still wields enormous power.

HORSEY: Whoever wins the ballot, the military will be there.

SULLIVAN: Richard Horsey says that's because the military-drafted constitution sets aside 25% of the seats in Parliament for the military, plus control of three security ministries.

HORSEY: So this is some form of military-civilian cohabitation, regardless of election results.

SULLIVAN: And then there's the COVID pandemic that hit Myanmar late but hard in September, straining a rudimentary health care system and forcing widespread lockdowns, including in the commercial capital, Yangon.


AUNG SAN SUU KYI: (Non-English language spoken).

SULLIVAN: But Aung San Suu Kyi insists the elections proceed, telling people in a nationally televised address that the government would do its best to ensure their safety at polling places. And for all its shortcomings, says Richard Horsey, this election still matters.

HORSEY: The fact that Myanmar shifted from decades of military dictatorship to an electoral system of deciding government is fantastic and something we would have had difficulty to imagine even 10 years ago.

SULLIVAN: For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Bangkok.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANCIENT FUTURE'S "LADAKH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.