The National League for Democracy (NLD) announced yesterday that its leader Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in parliament. While the official results of Myanmar’s by-election will not be available until later this week, the NLD’s informal monitoring indicated a landslide victory for the opposition group and will mark the remarkable shift of Ms. Suu Kyi’s position from dissident to lawmaker after more than a decade of house arrest and repression.
Counts from polling booths showed that the NLD was victorious in 44 of the 45 constituencies in the central and regional parliaments, despite the party reporting numerous voting irregularities prior to the elections. Preliminary results suggest that the NLD won 39 seats in the parliament in total, and Ms. Suu Kyi herself won 65 percent of the votes in the lower house electorate of Kawhmu. Should official results confirm those released by the NLD, it will be the first time in in 22 years that the government has acknowledged the party’s wins. In 1990, NLD won a landslide victory as well, only to have the military junta ignore the results.
However, their victory may be overshadowed by the fact that President Thein Sein’s ruling party and the military will still control more than 80 percent of parliamentary seats. According to NLD campaign manager Nyan Win, one of Ms. Suu Kyi’s first steps as a member of parliament would be to change the constitution, although she is expected to face difficulty in doing so. On her campaign trail, Ms. Suu Kyi expressly said that she considered the allocation of parliamentary seats to unelected representatives of the military as undemocratic. The current constitution was written under the former military junta that ruled Myanmar for more than 40 years.
Elections came after almost half a year of reforms made by President Thein Sein’s government. Since assuming the role of president, Mr. Sein has had hundreds of political prisoners released, introduced media freedoms into the country and allowed Ms. Suu Kyi and the NLD to run for a seats in parliament, among other things. The government announced that the floating of its currency, to unify the dichotomous exchange rate systems which have existed in the country for many years, would begin yesterday while elections were taking place.
In contrast to the past, hundreds of international diplomats and journalists served as observers of the by-election. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that it was “heartening to be reminded that even the most repressive regime can reform and even the most closed society can open”, although “it is too early to know what the progress of recent months means and whether it will be sustained”. Holding a free and fair election was one of the conditions set by the West on Myanmar before it would consider lifting its sanctions on the country.
Report: Joy in the streets as voters embrace Suu Kyi [Sydney Morning Herald, 2 April 2012]
Report: From Prisoner to Parliament in Myanmar [New York Times, 1 April 2012]
Report: For Suu Kyi, a new role and heavier burden [Reuters, 1 April 2012]