Sunday 20 October 2019

Suu Kyi on brink of destiny after 'landslide' win in vote

A Kayan woman, from one of Myanmar’s ethnic minority groups, shows her ink-stained finger after she voted in Panpet village, in Kayah state
A Kayan woman, from one of Myanmar’s ethnic minority groups, shows her ink-stained finger after she voted in Panpet village, in Kayah state
Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi waves as she visits polling stations in Kawhmu township

Philip Sherwell

Jubilant Burmese ­opposition supporters thronged streets in Rangoon last night as ­preliminary results pointed to sweeping election gains for the party of democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi.

The National League for ­Democracy (NLD) seemed poised for power more than 50 years ­after the military took over the country in a coup and 25 years after the generals ignored its overwhelming victory in the last contested vote.

Voters began to line up well before dawn and waited for several hours in places to cast their ballots as about 80pc of the 30 million electorate joined the democratic experiment in the country also known as Myanmar.

The watershed elections were conducted peacefully and ­largely without incident, bar the media scrum that engulfed Ms Suu Kyi as she arrived at her polling station in Rangoon.

Once the world's most ­famous political prisoner, the Nobel laureate was expected to address flag-waving crowds who gathered outside the NLD headquarters when polls closed, their exuberance undiminished by a tropical downpour.

But her address did not take place amid reports that Ms Suu Kyi was locked in talks with ­senior aides to discuss the apparent scale of their ­breakthrough in the first ­election since the end of five decades of military ­dictatorship.

The first official returns will be declared today, but results declared at ­individual ­polling stations yesterday evening ­indicated a strong showing for the NLD and ­disappointing results for the ruling ­military-backed party.

"All the indications are that it is looking like a landslide for the NLD," said Larry Jagan, a ­prominent Rangoon-based commentator on Burmese ­politics.

Ms Suu Kyi's party needs that landslide to win two-thirds of the contested seats to secure a majority in the new ­parliament because 25pc of the places are already allocated to military ­appointees under the army-drafted constitution.

Even before results were announced, there was a mood of excitement as the elections ­unfolded in a country where, until recently, even voicing ­support for the NLD could ­result in a long prison term.

Ma Thida, a writer and ­former aide to Ms Suu Kyi, was among hundreds of former ­political prisoners who cast their votes yesterday.

The sky was still dark as she arrived with her elderly parents at a Rangoon polling station an hour before the gates opened.

"My feeling now is one of relief and 'so far, so good'," she said as she emerged later with a finger inked in the indelible purple dye that marked a voter.

"We are happy and we have a sense of hope and expectation. Our country now is standing at a fork in the road, and it's really not clear which direction we'll be able to take.

She was echoing widely­-held concerns that the ­military-backed ruling party could cling to power via dirty tricks, electoral shenanigans, or the post-vote horse-trading that may be necessary to form a new government.

Those fears partially eased last night as ­opposition ­supporters hoped that a ­landslide win would force the powerful ­military to keep to its word to accept the election result. Even if the NLD wins the vote, Ms Suu Kyi is ­prevented from being nominated for ­president by a clause barring anyone with close relations with foreign ­allegiances. Both of her sons are British, as was her late husband.

The NLD leader insisted last week that the clause would be no obstacle to her running the country with an unstated role "above the president".

The stand-off could still put the military on a collision course with the woman they held under house arrest for 15 years and who believes it is her destiny to lead her homeland - a role that was ­violently snatched from her father who was assassinated months before independence in 1948.

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