Myanmar’s ruling party claimed victory on Monday in a general election that marked another democratic milestone in the former military dictatorship but was overshadowed by the sidelining of minorities.
The National League for Democracy (NLD), which first came to power in 2015 and is led by Aung San Suu Kyi, said its unofficial count showed it had reached the 322-seat threshold needed to form a new government. The final results have yet to be announced by the election commission.
Former political prisoner and Nobel Peace Prize winner Ms Suu Kyi, 75, leads the country in the role of state counselor, essentially a civilian ruler alongside the army. She remains popular despite the country’s economic troubles and she is expected to retain this position for a second term.
NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt told Reuters the party would continue to work “hand in hand” with the army, who are still constitutionally guaranteed a quarter of the seats in parliament and control of key ministries including Home Affairs. The military also has an effective veto on any constitutional changes.
However, critics say Ms Suu Kyi failed to claw back power from the generals and allowed a horrific military-led ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya minority, which caused more than 700,000 people to flee the western state of Rakhine into neighbouring Bangladesh.
Conflict continues between government troops and the Arakan Army, an armed insurgent group that recruits mostly from the majority Buddhist Rakhine population.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who remained in the state are now confined to camps and villages where they are denied basic rights like freedom of movement. Most were barred from voting with the government saying the fighting meant it could not hold polls there.
Nigel Adams, the British minister for Asia, described the elections as a “significant milestone” in the nation's transition from military dictatorship to democracy but said the UK government was disappointed to see that the Rohingya and other minorities were disenfranchised.
“Elections were cancelled in areas of conflict without a clear rationale or transparency,” he said in a statement, urging free and fair voting at the earliest opportunity in these places.
Richard Horsey, a political analyst based in Yangon, said Western criticism of Ms Suu Kyi’s handling of the Rohingya crisis had strengthened her hand domestically as she was seen as a defender of the country.
“The general feeling of the person on the street is that the West has betrayed them, that the West doesn’t understand and based on this poor understanding has just dropped Aung San Suu Kyi overnight,” he said.
“I think another convincing victory will reaffirm in her own mind the correctness of her political path.”