Election victory sees Suu Kyi secure foothold in Burma parliament02/04/2012 - 17:46:35
Democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party has won a landslide victory in historic Burmese elections.
After the results were confirmed by election officials she said she hoped the vote would mark the start of a new era for the long-repressed country.
Ms Suu Kyi spoke to thousands of cheering supporters who gathered outside her party's headquarters a day after the closely watched balloting.
"The success we are having is the success of the people," she said, as the sea of supporters chanted her name and thrust their hands in the air to flash "V" for victory signs.
The state Election Commission confirmed that her National League for Democracy had swept to a victory that will put it at the head of a small opposition bloc in the military-dominated parliament.
State radio and television broadcast the commission's announcement that the NLD had won 40 of the 45 seats at stake. Results from five constituencies in remote areas have not been declared.
"It is not so much our triumph as a triumph of the people who have decided that they have to be involved in the political process in this country," Ms Suu Kyi said. "We hope this will be the beginning of a new era."
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate will take public office for the first time and lead the NLD in parliament, where it will hold just about 6% of the seats.
The victory, however, marks a major milestone in the Southeast Asian nation, which is emerging from a ruthless era of military rule, and is an astonishing reversal of fortune for a woman who became one of the world's most prominent prisoners of conscience.
The former military junta had kept Ms Suu Kyi imprisoned in her home for the better part of two decades.
When she was finally released in late 2010, just after a general election which many deemed neither free nor fair, few could have imagined she would so quickly make the leap from democracy advocate to elected official - a victory her supporters hope will open the way for a potential presidential run in 2015.
But Burma has changed dramatically over that time. The junta finally ceded power last year, and although many of its leaders merely swapped their military uniforms for civilian suits, they stunned even their staunchest critics by releasing political prisoners, signing cease-fires with rebels, relaxing press censorship and opening a direct dialogue with Ms Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1991 while under house arrest.
Hoping to convince the international community of its progress, Burma invited dozens of election observers to monitor the vote and granted visas to hundreds of foreign journalists.
The United States and the European Union have said that the fairness of the voting will be a major factor in their decision on whether to lift economic sanctions that were imposed to penalise the former junta.
The election was called to fill 45 vacant seats in Burma's 664-member bicameral assembly and regional parliaments, and the military-backed government had little to lose by holding it.
The last vote had already been engineered in their favour - the army was allotted 25% of the seats, and the ruling party won most of the rest.
"The real danger of the by-elections is the overblown expectations many in the West have cast on them," said David Scott Mathieson, an expert on Burma for Human Rights Watch.
"The hard work really does start afterward," he said. "Constitutional reform, legal reform, tackling systemic corruption, sustainable economic development, continued human rights challenges ... will take many years."
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