Opposition claims historic sweep in Myanmar elections

The symbolic importance of a landslide opposition victory in Myanmar could prompt a backlash against reformist President Thein Sein by hardliners in the military.

Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters
Supporters celebrate opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's election to a seat in the Myanmar parliament. Her party is projected to win 40 out of 45 seats up for election in an overwhelming victory.

Jubilant supporters of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi sang and danced outside the headquarters of her opposition National League for Democracy here on Sunday night, as the party claimed a stunning near clean sweep of the parliamentary by-elections held earlier in the day.

NLD officials said they were confident of winning 40 of the 45 seats at stake. If confirmed, the results would deal a major blow to the credibility of the military-backed Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP) which has dominated parliament since flawed elections in 2010 that the NLD boycotted.

“I am very happy for democracy and for the future of our country,” said NLD spokesman Nyan Win, as thousands of supporters, many clad in red T-shirts emblazoned with their party’s golden peacock emblem, danced and clapped in the street outside to the sounds of party songs blaring from loudspeakers.

Neither the government, nor the USDP, had made any statement by late Sunday evening. Official results are not expected until later in the week, but the NLD said it based its claims on vote counts from individual constituencies reported by the media and party representatives at local vote-counting centers.

The unexpected scale of the opposition’s apparent victory – matching its triumph in elections in 1990 that the military junta then in power chose to ignore – is likely to unnerve the government – mainly comprising former Army generals – that had hoped to control the pace of political reform, local and foreign analysts suggested.

“What is important from now on is that all the parties to the reform process work closely together,” said one Western diplomat.

President Thein Sein reached an accord last August with Ms. Suu Kyi, paving the way for the NLD’s return to electoral politics after more than two decades. That deal, which led to the release of hundreds of political prisoners, a relaxation of censorship, and other liberalizing moves, appeared designed to persuade the US and other Western powers to lift crippling international sanctions.

However many seats the NLD wins at Sunday’s by-elections, the party will hold fewer than 10 percent of all the seats in Parliament and pose no threat to the official USDP’s majority. But the symbolic importance of a landslide opposition victory might give Thein Sein’s hardline critics within the military and the USDP ammunition.

“The NLD should be very careful not to be arrogant or aggressive,” says Myo Nan Naung Thein, a former political prisoner and sometime aide to Ms. Suu Kyi. “If we are seen as a threat to the government there is a possibility that the [reform] process will slowdown or fail later on,” he warns.

The NLD did caution its supporters on Sunday evening to temper their euphoria.

“Celebrations and enjoyment are natural,” the party said in a statement. “But we must completely avoid doing or saying anything that might hurt people from other organizations. All NLD members must take care that the victory of the people bolsters the reputation of the people.”

Editor's Note: Our correspondent in Yangon could not be identified for security reasons. 

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