As in many other Asian countries, the concept of losing face is a dominant factor in social interaction in Myanmar. It is what makes people say “yes” when they mean “no” and makes them hide uncomfortable truths, because confrontation will cause those involved to lose face.
It is also a factor not to be underestimated in the general election that unfolded today.
Voting stopped officially at 4pm and party representatives have begun publishing the result of early counts on Facebook. This social medium is, of course, not a reliable source and some of the posters might be biased about politics, but the first trickle of numbers suggest that a crushing defeat for the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party is at hand.
NLD spokesperson U Win Htein has been quoted as saying that the party has won 70 percent of the seats, which he said was in line with its expectations.
Even if voting has been relatively free and fair, and the absence of widespread irregularities would seem to suggest this – although advance “ghost votes” might still emerge, as they did well after counting had begun in 2010 – there are certain risks involved if the NLD sweeps the polls.
It will be a public slap in the face of the ruling elite, of the kind that occurred in the 1990 elections.
The former military men who run the USDP will feel humiliated if the party suffers a crushing defeat by the NLD, even though technically they will continue to control some key ministries and large parts of the economy. The USDP will also be comforted by the effective veto over constitutional reform of the unelected military bloc in parliament.
The NLD will probably achieve a long-awaited victory. Party leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her colleagues will be tempted to gloat, after years of fruitlessly trying to have the result of the 1990 election honoured.
It would be wise for the NLD to show restraint. Modesty in this hour of probable victory is needed, as in the months to come the army and the USDP-elite will remain a force to reckon with. They will be sitting at the other side of the bargaining table.
Peaceful strategies are proving the most effective at challenging military rule and the new National Unity Government should prioritise them over armed struggle.