Myanmar opposition claims by-election win for Suu Kyi

Reuters reports: Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in the country’s lower house of parliament on Sunday after defeating her two rival candidates in a by-election in her constituency, the main opposition party said.

Her National League for Democracy (NLD) party announced at its headquarters that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi had won in Kawhmu, south of the commercial capital Yangon.

The New York Times reports: Daw Khin Maung Mya, 76, was filled with emotion after voting on Sunday at a polling station in her neighborhood of crumbling buildings and trash-strewn streets.

“I feel like crying when I talk about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” Ms. Khin Maung Mya said after casting her vote. “It felt so good to vote for her party — only Daw Aung San Suu Kyi can save us from deep poverty.”

For the first time in two decades, voters in 45 districts across Myanmar had the chance to vote for the party of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, a milestone after years of military rule and brutality.

From a strictly numerical standpoint, the election itself will not affect the balance of power in Myanmar, as less than 10 percent of seats in Parliament were in play.

But voters described it as a joyous day, another step toward democracy as the country undergoes radical changes under President Thein Sein, the former general who has led the country for the last year and is encouraging reconciliation with Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi.

“We used to fear speaking with foreigners about democracy,” Daw Kyi Kyi Tun, a 50-year-old former school teacher, told a reporter after voting. “Now we have courage.”

Christian Caryl writes: Back in 1990, when the military-dominated government last allowed a relatively free general election, the NLD and its allies won 92 percent of the seats. That result stunned the regime, which subsequently annulled the results. This time around, as the country slowly transitions to more democratic governance, there won’t be any room for surprises on a comparable scale. The 45 seats up for grabs amount to less than 7 percent of the seats in the Burmese legislature. So even if the NLD wins a landslide victory, it will still fall far short of anything like a workable majority, and its ability to effect change will be correspondingly limited.

Optimists say that this election marks a watershed. Since ex-general President Thein Sein came to power two years ago, he has steered a cautious course toward greater openness: releasing political prisoners, loosening state control over the media, and inviting Aung San Suu Kyi and her party to participate in the political system. “This is a compromise for both sides,” says Tin Maung Thann of Myanmar Egress, a private group that aspires to train future Burmese leaders. The president, he says, used his power to change legislation so that the NLD could register as a political party, while Aung San Suu Kyi “put her faith in the reforms.”

Yet there are evident risks. Some NLD supporters worry that the government will use their party’s modest presence in parliament after April 1 to legitimize what is still a profoundly non-democratic political system. The existing parliament, for example, was chosen in a nationwide 2010 election resoundingly rejected by the international community as a sham. That vote was based in turn on a 2008 constitution drawn up by the military government in a process that bore few traces of genuine citizen involvement. The constitution, which remains in force, reserves a full quarter of the seats in the legislature for members of the armed forces. It’s a situation that results in a curious paradox: Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD colleagues are taking part in an election that they themselves consider flawed. “I don’t think we can consider it a genuine free and fair election if we consider what has been happening here over the last few months,” she said in her pre-election press conference today, referring to allegations of widespread violations made by the NLD.

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