The resounding victory of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) in the national elections in November 2015 ushered in what many hailed as a new era for Myanmar, after more than a half-century of military and semi-military rule. While the NLD's ascension has generated overwhelming optimism, a more open environment, a surge of foreign aid, and — after a fourmonth hiatus — investment, the fledgling government's performance in addressing Myanmar's age-old challenges has received mixed reviews. We examine how the rise of the NLD government and its de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has transformed the political landscape, and highlight key opportunities and challenges confronting the party and Myanmar's overall transition to democracy.
The Aftermath of the NLD Elections
Immediately after taking power on 1 April, the NLD government dropped charges against and/or released approximately 235 political prisoners; filled top-level positions, including the first all-civilian contingent of chief ministers for the 14 states and regions; slashed the number of government ministries from 36 to an initial 21; and vowed to cut bureaucratic red tape. In a clear push for “quick wins”, the new government also broadened anti-corruption rules for officials and lawmakers; stepped up agricultural loans to farmers; accelerated the previous government's move to return confiscated land to individuals; and reached out to migrant Burmese workers, particularly in neighbouring Thailand.
After creating a new role for herself of State Counsellor, equivalent to prime minister in a semi-presidential system, Aung San Suu Kyi — who also took the post of Foreign Minister — set up a series of committees and commissions to address priority areas, from land disputes to environmental and economic reforms, and announced general policies to address an array of economic and political problems. Some initiatives, such as the release of political prisoners and loans to farmers, had immediate and positive impacts; but others — including sweeping promises to create more jobs, reform state enterprises, and return seized land — highlighted the complexity of problems that will require carefully structured, multi-faceted solutions. With this in mind, we first examine how the NLD's accession to power has affected the nature and composition of government and the dynamics within major political parties and institutions.