YANGON, (Reuters) – Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in parliament yesterday, her party said, after an historic by-election that is testing the country’s nascent reform credentials and could persuade the West to end sanctions.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party claimed victories in at least 19 of the 45 available seats and announced to loud cheers that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate had won in Kawhmu, southwest of the commercial capital Yangon, raising the prospect of a sizable political role following a two-decade struggle against military dictatorship.
The charismatic and wildly popular Suu Kyi, who suffered from illness and exhaustion on the campaign trail, did not address the crowd but issued a statement asking supporters to respect the other parties.
“It is natural that the NLD members and their supporters are joyous at this point,” Suu Kyi said. “However, it is necessary to avoid manners and actions that will make the other parties and members upset. It is very important that NLD members take special care that the success of the people is a dignified one.”
Traffic around the NLD’s crumbling Yangon offices ground to a halt as about 2,000 supporters gathered, waving flags and cheering as one by one, NLD candidates claimed victories.
“We keep hearing we have had more success but we need to hear it from our candidates,” a party official told Reuters.
The Election Commission had yet to confirm any of the results and officials from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) could not be reached for comment.
The United States and the European Union have hinted that they may lift some sanctions – imposed over the past two decades in response to human rights abuses – if the election is free and fair, unleashing a wave of investment in the impoverished but resource-rich country bordering rising powers India and China.
Suu Kyi had complained last week of “irregularities”, though none were significant enough for any immediate dispute.
Voters filed into makeshift polling stations from dawn, some gushing with excitement after casting ballots for the frail Suu Kyi, or “Aunty Suu” as she is affectionately known.