Paraphrasing the Roman historian Tacitus, US President John F Kennedy said in 1961 that ‘victory has a thousand fathers but defeat is an orphan’. This aphorism springs to mind as Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy (NLD) prepare to assume power as the first popularly elected government in Myanmar for more than 50 years.

There is no shortage of foreign governments, activist organisations and individuals claiming credit for the extraordinary events of the past five years: the paradigm shift that saw Myanmar’s armed forces (or Tatmadaw) step back and permit the creation of a hybrid civilian-military government; the launch of an unprecedented reform program; and the elections in 2015 that resulted in a landslide victory for the NLD.

Despite some early scepticism about the Tatmadaw’s motives and the validity of President Thein Sein’s reforms, it is now accepted that Myanmar has undergone a remarkable transformation. There are still many difficult issues to be resolved, not least the continuing political role of the armed forces, economic problems, religious tensions and ethnic insurgencies, but the Myanmar of 2016 is a far cry from the Myanmar of 2011.

Following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, governments, international organisations, activist groups and others worked long and hard to achieve such an outcome. They threw much needed light on a country that had long been in darkness, and a population that had suffered for decades. Looking back, however, it is difficult to see any evidence that external factors contributed significantly to the evolution of a new era in Myanmar.

The Myanmar people themselves deserve most of the credit for the transition and, like it or not, that includes the armed forces. It may seem a harsh judgement, but examined objectively it is hard to escape the conclusion that Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD are forming a new government this week largely because the generals have allowed them to do so, as part of a long term plan formulated by the former military regime.

Please click here to read the full “Democracy in Myanmar: Who can claim victory?” article in The Lowy Interpreter by Griffith Asia Institute Adjunct Associate Professor, Dr Andrew Selth.