TODD PITMAN & AYE AYE WIN
The party of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi said she had led it to a landslide election victory on Sunday,setting the stage for her to take public office for the first time and head a small opposition in the military-dominated Parliament.
As results came in on Sunday night from the poll watchers of Suu Kyis National League for Democracy,party spokesman and campaign manager Nyan Win projected it would win 40 of 45 parliamentary seats at stake. It had contested 44.
No official results were expected before Monday. Independent verification of the vote was not possible.
The victory,if confirmed,would mark a major milestone in Myanmar,where the military has ruled almost exclusively for a half-century and where a new reform-minded government is seeking legitimacy and a lifting of Western sanctions.
It would also mark the biggest prize of Suu Kyis political career,and a spectacular reversal of fortune for the 66-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate who the former junta had kept imprisoned in her lakeside home for the better part of two decades.
A digital signboard outside the National League for Democracys headquarters in Myanmars main city,Yangon,announced in the late afternoon that Suu Kyi had won a seat. Supporters gathered by the thousands began shouting upon learning the news,chanting We won! We won! while clapping,dancing,waving red party flags and gesturing with thumbs-up and V-for-victory signs.
As more counts came in from the NLDs poll watchers around the country,the crowd grew to as many as 10,000. The partys security guards tried without success to keep the traffic flowing past the people occupying much of the road and all nearby sidewalks.
The NLD captured all four seats in the capital,Naypyitaw,said one of its senior members,Tin Oo. Results in Naypyitaw had been hard to predict,because many of its residents are civil servants and their families,dependent on the government for their livelihoods,and might have favored the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party. The turnout when Suu Kyi campaigned there was noticeably smaller than elsewhere.
The digital screen displaying results also flashed a message from Suu Kyi to her followers noting that they were understandably happy but should avoid gloating. She cautioned them to please refrain from rude behavior or actions that would make the other side unhappy.
All results must be confirmed by the official electoral commission,which may not make an official declaration for days.
The victory claim came despite allegations by her National League for Democracy party that rampant irregularities had taken place on voting day. Party spokesman Nyan Win said that by midday alone the party had filed more than 50 complaints to the Election Commission.
Sundays bypoll was called to fill just 45 vacant seats in Myanmars 664-seat national Parliament and will not change the balance of power in a new government that is nominally civilian but still heavily controlled by retired generals. Suu Kyi and other opposition candidates would have almost no say even if they win all the seats they are contesting.
But her candidacy has resurrected hope among Myanmars downtrodden masses,who have grown up for generations under strict military rule. If Suu Kyi takes office as expected,it would symbolise a giant leap toward national reconciliation.
She may not be able to do anything at this stage, said one voter,Go Khehtay,who cast his ballot for Suu Kyi at Wah Thin Kha,one of the dirt-poor villages in the rural constituency south of Yangon that she is vying to represent. But one day,I believe shell be able to bring real change.
Earlier,crowds of supporters mobbed Suu Kyi as she visited a polling station in the village after spending the night there. The tiny community of 3,000 farmers has no electricity or running water,and its near-total underdevelopment illustrates the profound challenges facing the country as it slowly emerges from 49 years of army rule.
Despite the reports of widespread irregularities,a confirmed victory by Suu Kyi could cheer Western powers and nudge them closer to easing economic sanctions they have imposed on the country for years.