MANDALAY, MYANMAR —
Mya Pwint Phyu almost bursts with excitement as she talks about Myanmar’s historic election. Official results released Friday confirmed that Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won by a landslide and will elect the next president early next year.
Mya Pwint Phyu and 11 of her colleagues at the Cherry stationary shop in the central city of Mandalay sat at polling stations on the day of the election, paying close attention to voting inside the city’s old palace, which is now a military compound occupied by soldiers and their families.
“If we saw any problems or cheating, we would tell the media,” she said of the group’s unofficial monitoring mission, made up of mostly female first-time voters. “We really wanted to be involved in this moment,” she added, noting that voting turned out to be “fair enough.”
With almost five months to wait until democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi can form a new government, 24-year-old Mya Pwint Phyu and many of her compatriots can now allow themselves to imagine what changes a new government might bring to a resource-rich country impoverished by decades under authoritarian and military rule.
“With the last government, if they built a new road, they would do it as cheaply as possible, and it would have to be replaced after a year,” she said. “If Daw Aung San Suu Kyi gets power, the roads will be better. Also the education system will improve, and there will be more jobs because of foreign investment.”
Another member of the stationary store observer team, Pearl, 24, has a master’s degree in mathematics, but has been unable to find a job that utilizes her abilities.
University education in the country is notoriously bad, with students expected to memorize fixed answers in English and regurgitate them wholesale in exam papers. Once they graduate, they land in a labor market bereft of opportunities.
Under a new government, Pearl said, “I expect the country to start improving a lot, and I think there will be more suitable jobs for graduates.”
When asked what changes they expect, many NLD supporters similarly diverge from the party’s official manifesto, a document with little detail on policy. Instead, they project their own priorities onto the party and its adored leader, known as Mother Suu.
The NLD has never had a chance to gain governing experience, and some observers note the lack of economic expertise among the candidates it selected. A large number are medical doctors, who will join ranks of former political prisoners and several poets as the largest voting bloc in the parliament in Naypyidaw.
Aung San Suu Kyi herself is ineligible for the presidency under the 2008 Constitution, which was drafted by the country’s former military rulers. She has said publicly that she will be “above” a president chosen by her party.
Shwe Hla, the NLD’s chairman in Mandalay, told VOA that an administration run by Aung San Suu Kyi would bring a long list of improvements for the people of Myanmar.
“The people can expect the law to be fair for the people, no corruption or bribery in the government, peace with the ethnic people, rule of law, stability and tranquility,” he said. More specifically, he added, improving education and health care provisions would be priorities for an NLD government.
But hopes still rest on military leaders allowing a truly civilian government to rule the country. The early indications are that they intend to, but the Constitution gives unelected soldiers many levers that could be used to block efforts to undo years of polices created when power and wealth were amassed by the generals and their friends.
Given this, many people are waiting until power is truly handed over before they celebrate, distrusting a military that overturned the last resounding NLD election win 25 years ago.
Tea shop owner Myint Kyaw, 58, remembers taking part in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising that toppled a one-party socialist state, clearing the way for the 1990 vote. He said he now hopes that his two children will get to live in a country with a bright economic and political future.
“But I’m still a little nervous,” Myint Kyaw said. “I’m afraid that they might not transfer power to Mother Suu.” If that happens, he added, “The whole country will protest on the streets, including me.”