Observers witness history in Myanmar
Even in rural areas, queues for polling stations were hundreds of people deep during Myanmar’s historic election. Anne Davies reports from Kalaw, Myanmar.
Yangon: Aung San Suu Kyi has officially been declared the winner of Myanmar’s election, making history in the once hermit nation ruled for half a century by brutal dictators.
Days of painstakingly slow vote counting on Friday finally gave Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy more than half the seats in the country’s 329 seat parliament, allowing the 70-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner to nominate a president and form a government.
Winner: Myanmar’s National League for Democracy party leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Photo: AP
The NLD decimated the ruling military-based party at last Sunday’s elections, the first free vote in 25 years, winning up up to 80 per cent of the vote in a huge show of support for Ms Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest.
Supporters danced in the streets in the hours after the vote as it became clear she was headed towards a landslide victory.
Ms Suu Kyi urged her millions of supporters to be careful not to provoke their rivals as she prepares to take power when parliament resumes in February.
She also urged them to overcome their fears of Myanmar’s powerful army following her party’s landslide election victory, telling them: “We cannot be caught up in the bond of suspicion.”
Ms Suu Kyi told Radio Free Asia that army chiefs have assured her they “want to be with the people” and distrust will decline following the vote for freedom.
Ms Suu Kyi’s message came amid lingering fears the military might overturn the vote, as it did when the NLD won a previous landslide victory in 1990.
The army remains the country’s most powerful institution and will have to make accommodations with Ms Suu Kyi’s party as it moves to form a government to ensure stability in the country of 52 million people.
Ms Suu Kyi has said she plans to run the government above a “puppet” president, despite being barred from the post under an army-written constitution.
Asked why so many people voted for her party, Ms Suu Kyi said: “Our hearts beat in the same note. We struggled together, and we had hopes together. We dreamed together for nearly 30 years. The NLD and the people are comrades-in-arms. I think that is the reason they supported us.”
Officials of Ms Suu Kyi’s party say obtaining the release of 112 political prisoners and another 479 alleged dissidents who are on trial or facing potential prison sentences will be a priority of the incoming administration.
President Thein Sein promised in 2013 to release all political prisoners but dozens remain in jail.
Authorities cracked down on government dissent in the months leading to Sunday’s election, arresting and jailing scores of more people.
The military would have to agree to a general amnesty or pardon of the prisoners because the army, under a constitution they wrote in 2008, maintains control over the Ministry of Home Affairs, which is responsible for the police force.
“We are not in government yet, though,” said an NLD spokesman.
“The government should have released [the prisoners] to get a good name but it didn’t do it,” he said.
Talks between the NLD, military chiefs, and leaders of the decimated ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party are scheduled for next week.
There will not be a transfer of power until parliament reconvenes in early February.
A longtime favourite of western powers, Ms Suu Kyi has received telephone calls of congratulations from world leaders including US President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, even though the victory had not being formally declared as official vote counting dragged on.
The NLD hopes Obama will make a flying stop-over visit to Myanmar to endorse the result when he is in south-east Asia for regional leaders’ summits next week.