Saturday 21 September 2019

Aung San Suu Kyi's party set for decisive victory in Burma elections

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech (AP)
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech (AP)
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is mobbed by supporters as she arrives at the headquarters of her National League for Democracy party in Rangoon (AP)
A National League for Democracy member reads a paper covered with a portrait of party leader Aung San Suu Kyi outside the party's headquarters in Rangoon (AP)

Burma's opposition party said it has won virtually every parliamentary seat in the four states for which results are known, a tally that points to a massive sweep in the country's historic elections.

The National League for Democracy (NDL), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, announced that it had won 44 of the 45 lower house seats and all 12 of the upper house seats from Yangon, Burma's biggest city, in Sunday's general election.

It also won all 38 seats in Ayeyarwaddy state, all but one of the 40 in Bago, and 11 out of 19 lower house seats and all 10 upper house seats in Mon state. The trend was expected to continue in the remaining 10 states.

As the results were announced at the party's headquarters in Yangon, huge cheers broke out among the crowd of red-shirted supporters.

Aung Kyaw Kyaw, a 29-year-old pharmacist, said he didn't vote for the ruling party because "they were only former military people. If I voted for them, that means I am asking my own enemy to come back into my life".

The Yangon result was not announced by the government's Union Election Commission, but the NLD has stationed representatives at counting centres and is keeping tallies that are being relayed to its headquarters.

The election commission has been slow in releasing the numbers.

Even without official results, it was clear that the Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP) was facing a huge defeat.

The party is made up former junta members who ruled the country for half a century and as a quasi-civilian government since 2011.

Earlier on Monday, Ms Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-democracy icon, urged supporters not to provoke losing rivals who mostly represent the former junta.

Hours before the Yangon announcement, party spokesman Win Htein said the NLD had won about 70% of the votes counted by midday.

Another spokesman, Nyan Win, put the number at 90%, adding: " We will win a landslide."

The comments, if confirmed by official results, indicate that Ms Suu Kyi's party would not only dominate parliament, but could also secure the presidency despite handicaps built into the constitution.

"I want Mother Suu to win in this election," said Ma Khine, a street vendor, referring to the 70-year-old with an affectionate term many here use. "She has the skill to lead the country. I respect her so much. I love her. She will change our country in a very good way."

The NLD has been widely expected to finish with the largest number of seats in Parliament.

A two-thirds majority would give it control over the executive posts under Burma's complicated parliamentary-presidency system, which also reserves 25% of parliament's 664 seats for the military.

The military and the largest parties in the upper house and the lower house will each nominate one candidate for the presidential election, which will be held after January 31.

Then all 664 members of parliament will take a vote and the person with the highest number of ballots will become president, while the other two will become vice presidents.

A massive majority in parliament would allow the NLD to take the presidency and one vice presidency.

Capturing the presidency and parliament would give the NLD power over legislation, economic policy and foreign relations, but the constitution guarantees that the military will retain control over the ministries of defence, interior and border security.

Also, the military will have the power to legally block constitutional amendments.

Ms Suu Kyi cannot take over the presidency because a constitutional amendment bars anyone with a foreign spouse or child from being president or vice president.

Her two sons are British, as was her late husband.

Ms Suu Kyi, however, has said she will act as the country's leader if the NLD wins the presidency, saying she will be "above the president".

Daniel Russel, the top US diplomat for East Asia, said the elections appeared to have passed off smoothly. He called it a "hell of a step forward" for democracy in the south-east Asian nation.

He told Washington-based reporters that the US and other members of the international community would hold military chiefs to their commitment to honour the results of Sunday's vote.

In her first comments after the elections, Ms Suu Kyi told a crowd gathered at the NLD's headquarters: "I want to remind you all that even candidates who didn't win have to accept the winners, but it is important not to provoke the candidates who didn't win to make them feel bad.

Khin Maung Htay, 71, who was listening to Ms Suu Kyi's speech, said: "I am so happy, and I am not the only person - the whole country is happy. I think she is a perfect leader for our country and a woman of perfection."

The junta, which seized power in a 1962 coup, annulled the results when Ms Suu Kyi's party won a sweeping victory in the 1990 elections.

A new vote was held in 2010, but the opposition boycotted it, saying the election laws were unfair.

The USDP won by default and took office in 2011 under President Thein Sein, a former general who began political and economic reforms to end Burma's isolation and jump-start its economy.

But the party was battered in a 2012 by-election in which the NLD won 43 of the 44 parliamentary seats it contested.

PA Media

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