Will Myanmar’s military rulers honor the election results?

Though the outcome is still not certain, the historic election in Myanmar was a day 25 years in the making. Judy Woodruff takes a closer look at the struggle for democracy with Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Tom Malinowski.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And we take a closer look at Myanmar's historic election with Tom Malinowski. He's the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.

    Welcome to the program.

    TOM MALINOWSKI, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights: Thank you.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, is the opposition win clear? Is there any doubt that they on the track to victory?

  • TOM MALINOWSKI:

    Well, we don't have the official results yet.

    And it's important to remember that, under the system in Burma, the military is reserved to 25 percent of the seats in Parliament, which means her party, the NLD, would have to win two-thirds of the contested seats in order to get a majority and to form a government. So we don't know if they have done that yet.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Does it appear — some of the early reporting indicates that it looks like that's where they're headed.

  • TOM MALINOWSKI:

    Well, I don't want to make predictions as to numbers.

    I think what — it is important to step back, though, and to remember that this was a day 25 years in coming. A lot of people in Burma sacrificed and many died to get to this day. And the United States, for all of that period of time, supported the hope, the dream that one day the Burmese people would be able to make the choice that they did today.

    And there are still enormous problems. Burma is not yet a full-fledged democracy, but I think this does show us that where we are principled and patient and persistent in pursuit of that goal, we can make a difference.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, if Ms. Suu Kyi's party does obtain the two-thirds that you just described, is it — are you confident, is the United States confident that the military rulers are going to let her and her party essentially take over?

  • TOM MALINOWSKI:

    Well, we take absolutely nothing for granted. This has been a tough struggle in Burma for many years, as I mentioned.

    But the military has promised, including the commander in chief just in the last few days, that they will respect the results. And I think, having gone this far, I think it will be quite hard for them to turn back now.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What are the chief challenges going forward, whoever is victorious in the Parliament?

  • TOM MALINOWSKI:

    Well, there are several.

    First, the country is still operating under a non-democratic constitution, which gives the military, as I mentioned, a quarter of the seats in Parliament, which gives them, actually, a veto power over changes in the constitution, the right to appoint the interior ministers.

    The police in Burma still answers to the military and not to the civilian government. The constitution, Aung San Suu Kyi and her party have said, will need to change. And that's something that we have — we, the United States, have called for us as well.

    And then there's perhaps the deepest and most difficult problem, and that is that, well, one of the flaws of this election was that hundreds of thousands of people, the Rohingya Muslims…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Right.

  • TOM MALINOWSKI:

    … who had previously been able to vote in Burma, had lived there for generations, were disenfranchised, were denied the vote, because of a really virulent, racist campaign that was staged we think in part to try to deny the opposition a victory in this election.

    But that racism, that intolerance that was created for the purpose of this election is still out there. And those people are still suffering a great deal.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, just quickly, we know there was some criticism of Ms. Suu Kyi and some of the things that she and her party did during this campaign. That seems to be being overlooked right now in this early celebrating.

  • TOM MALINOWSKI:

    Well, it looks to me like, when people were in the privacy of the voting booth, after all of these years of waiting for this day, they saw a choice between the past and the future, and despite everything that has happened and everything that has been said, it looks like most Burmese are focused on moving forward.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, in the next few days, Secretary Malinowski, what does the United States look for? What are you looking for to come out of Burma?

  • TOM MALINOWSKI:

    Well, first, we want to wait and see what the election observers say about the conduct of the elections. We will know that, I think, tomorrow.

    We supported a program in which thousands of observers fanned out across the country to make sure that these elections were properly run. Then there will be a long period of political transition.

    So, depending on the results, we will want to see that the military, as you suggested, will respect them, will allow a civilian government to be formed, and ultimately that those civilians will have control, and that the military will gradually step back and play a more appropriate role for a democratic country.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Assistance Secretary Tom Malinowski, thank you.

  • TOM MALINOWSKI:

    Thank you.

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