Myanmar To Vote In First Open Election In 25 Years
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. It was an historic day in Myanmar, also known as Burma, where voters cast their ballots in what was largely believed to be the country's first free and fair elections since the end of military rule. Pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to win. But she's barred by the country's constitution from becoming president. NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us now from Yangon to discuss the elections. Thanks for being with us, Anthony.
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: You bet, Rachel.
MARTIN: There seems to be a contradiction here. Aung San Suu Kyi, internationally recognized figure, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, she's the face of the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar. But if she's barred from becoming president by the constitution in the country, how is she expected to win?
KUHN: Basically, the political system in Myanmar is stacked against Aung San Suu Kyi. The constitution says that anyone who has foreign nationals as relatives - as spouse or children - cannot be president. And her late husband was British and so are her children. And then it's very hard for her to change that constitution because the legislature is packed with unelected military representatives. So basically, I think her plan is to get a popular mandate and then push to change the constitution and become president. But she said something really interesting on Thursday. She said, if I can't be president and if we win the vote, I'm going to be above the president. So basically, you know, she's doing this because this is her last chance to take power. She swept elections in 1990. But the government didn't let her take power. They wouldn't hand power over to her. So this is really her last chance. And she's just going to go for it.
MARTIN: This sounds like it could be a political nightmare in some degree. If the constitution bars her from becoming president, she's saying, I won a popular mandate. I mean, is all this likely to happen peacefully?
KUHN: Well, first of all, the way this thing is going to unfold, it's going to take a long time. We're going to know in a couple of days how the vote went. But they're not going to form a new government until next year. And once the winner is known, there's going to be a lot of horse trading. There's going to be a lot of forming of coalitions. And this is going to happen behind closed doors. And so there's a lot of uncertainty surrounding the period. Also, you know, there are doubts about whether this election can really change the structure. The structure was designed by the military, the former ruling junta. And there are doubts about whether this election will fundamentally change it.
MARTIN: What are the implications of this election regionally, throughout Asia?
KUHN: Well, you know, the reason it's being watched so closely is that, you know, Myanmar used to be one of Asia's most prosperous countries until a military junta took over in 1962. And now it's one of Asia's poorest countries. But since 2010, they've been making some tentative moves towards democracy. And it's become extremely dynamic. It's changing very quickly. And because of the country's strategic location between India and China, a lot of other countries, such as the U.S., India, China, Thailand, are all vying for influence there. And a lot of investors are waiting to see. And if it looks stable, I think they're going to come in and invest.
MARTIN: NPR's Anthony Kuhn reporting on the Myanmar elections from Yangon. Thanks so much, Anthony.
KUHN: You're welcome, Rachel.
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