Asia

Myanmar delta town faces huge challenges after NLD win

Hinthada street
Image caption Hinthada is an impoverished town with crumbling infrastructure, located about 160km (100 miles) from Yangon

One of the clearest indications of how well the National League for Democracy was going to do in Myanmar's election was the early news that the acting leader of the military-backed USDP, U Htay Oo, had been decisively defeated in the Irrawaddy Delta town of Hinthada.

Last week when I was there, U Htay Oo told me he thought he could repeat his win in 2010, when the USDP had not faced competition from the NLD.

He was born in the town, and knew it well, he said. The NLD's thousands of enthusiastic supporters were, he said, from out of town and would make little impression on the population.

NLD candidate Khin Maung Yi, a retired teacher, was scarcely known in Hinthada.

The party ran on the same platform it offered everywhere else in Myanmar - the stature of Aung San Suu Kyi and vague promises of change. But that was enough.

U Htay Oo had stressed time and again in his speeches the development his party and the military had brought the region. The emotional appeal of the woman they call "Mother" was irresistible, and U Htay Oo lost - to his own surprise.

Enormous expectations

Image copyright Andre Malerba
Image caption A moment of contemplation and prayer for U Htay Oo, as he campaigned on the outskirts of his home town of Hinthada

But the challenges in this area to any incoming NLD government will be formidable. Impoverished, with crumbling infrastructure and heavily dependent on poorly-developed agriculture, Hinthada, like most of the Delta region, needs huge amounts of development.

Pyo Myint Thein, a pro-NLD activist and member of the so-called "88 Generation" of dissidents said what was important to him was ensuring that the military's grip on local government was loosened.

He wanted to see USDP-appointed officials replaced and the favouritism shown to pro-military cronies ended, although he acknowledged that this would take time.

I heard plenty of complaints about the way certain companies were allowed to dominate the trade and processing of commodities like rice and sunflower seeds.

Image caption Farm worker Myint Tin believes an NLD victory would inevitably ease the tough and insecure life she currently leads

Another local woman said her priority was more reliable electricity, improved schools, and better roads. The road to Yangon is so rough the 160km (100 miles) journey takes more than five hours.

Young people there spoke during the campaign of the need for more job opportunities, so they did not have to leave their hometown for Yangon to find employment.

And seasonal farm worker Myint Tin, who is landless, believed an NLD win would inevitably ease the tough and insecure life she and her husband lead, although she could not say exactly how.

Myanmar is a huge country, with many areas far poorer than the Irrawaddy Delta.

Aung San Suu Kyi's first task will be to negotiate a handover of power from a military establishment, which has run almost every aspect of administration for the past 53 years.

After that, though, her inexperienced and untested party will have to manage the enormous expectations their ebullient campaign has aroused.

The honeymoon will be brief, and she must hope for some luck with the economic cards her government is dealt in its first few years in office.