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Obama Congratulates Suu Kyi, Myanmar on 'Historic' Vote

  • VOA News

A street vendor unfolds pages of a calendar featuring Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a Yangon street, Nov. 12, 2015.

A street vendor unfolds pages of a calendar featuring Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a Yangon street, Nov. 12, 2015.

President Barack Obama has congratulated Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for her party's success in this week's parliamentary elections.

Results were still coming in, but Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) appeared headed for a landslide win.

A White House statement released Thursday said Obama called the Nobel Peace Prize laureate to commend "her for her tireless efforts and sacrifice over so many years to promote a more inclusive, peaceful and democratic" Myanmar, also known as Burma.

"The president noted that the election and formation of a new government could be an important step forward in Burma’s democratic transition and the effort to forge a more peaceful and prosperous future," the statement said.

Obama also called Myanmar President Thein Sein to offer his congratulations following Sunday's "historic elections."

FILE - Myanmar opposition leader and head of the National League for Democracy (NLD) Aung San Suu Kyi (C) visits a polling station in Kawhmu township, Yangon, Nov. 8, 2015.

FILE - Myanmar opposition leader and head of the National League for Democracy (NLD) Aung San Suu Kyi (C) visits a polling station in Kawhmu township, Yangon, Nov. 8, 2015.

"The two leaders discussed the importance for all parties to respect the official results once announced and to work together with a spirit of unity to form an inclusive, representative government that reflects the will of the people," the White House said.

But the White House said Myanmar needed to take several more democratic steps, including changing the constitution so Aung San Suu Kyi could possibly become president.

"Even with this election, 25 percent of the seats in the parliament are reserved for the military," Obama foreign policy adviser Ben Rhodes said Thursday. "We have consistently said over the course of the last several years that a full transition to domestic civilian rule in Burma would require a process of constitutional reform."

Myanmar's constitution bars Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming the country's leader because her late husband and sons are British.

Many critics of Myanmar's former government believe the military rulers jammed that law into the constitution just to prevent her from taking over the presidency someday.

'Peaceful transfer'

The current government, led by the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), continued to gives signs that it would respect the outcome of the vote.

The NLD said Thein Sein had promised that "the government will pursue a peaceful transfer" of power once the NLD victory was confirmed.

Myanmar's President Thein Sein (L) leaves after casting his vote in Naypyidaw on Nov. 8, 2015.

Myanmar's President Thein Sein (L) leaves after casting his vote in Naypyidaw on Nov. 8, 2015.

Myanmar's powerful army, which still wields enormous political control, has also hinted it will respect the results.

"[Myanmar's armed forces] will do what is best in cooperation with the new government during the post-election period," said senior Myanmar army General Min Aung Hlaing in a Facebook statement.

Results

The latest results gave the NLD a large lead over the USDP in both houses of parliament. Myanmar political experts said the NLD needed to capture two-thirds of the parliamentary seats to overcome the military’s veto in the bicameral legislature, known as the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, which selects the president.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who won re-election to her lower house seat in Kawhmu constituency in Yangon state, will now be the leader of what is set to become the ruling party.

She recently expressed a desire to become the country's de facto leader. In an interview with the BBC, she insisted that she would continue to make all decisions as NLD leader, regardless of who emerged as president.

FILE - Volunteers count votes at a polling station during Myanmar general elections in central Yangon, Nov. 8, 2015.

FILE - Volunteers count votes at a polling station during Myanmar general elections in central Yangon, Nov. 8, 2015.

Presidential candidates

The military and the largest parties in the parliament will nominate candidates for president in February. The top vote-getter will be president, while the two runners-up will be vice presidents.

More than 30 million people cast votes in Sunday's election, which international observers mostly praised as successful, while raising concerns over the disenfranchisement of Muslims and other minorities and about the lack of transparency in the counting of advance ballots.

This was the first election in Myanmar since the military junta established a quasi-civilian government in 2011, after nearly 50 years in power, and one year after Aung San Suu Kyi's nearly two-decade-long house detention ended and a ban on her NLD party was lifted.

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