BIRMANIA: A rare win for the Burmese people

Monday, 02 April 2012 12:32 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – Early Monday morning, the NLD party projected that it had won around 40 seats in Parliament, including four seats in the ruling party’s stronghold of Naypyitaw. The announcement was based on unofficial results.

NLD supporters stayed up late Sunday night celebrating in front of the LED screen in front of NLD headquarters which announced election predictions. The NLD is claiming a landslide victory, moving it into Parliament where in can work with other opposition groups on legislation towards national reconciliation. Photo: MizzimaNLD supporters stayed up late Sunday night celebrating in front of the LED screen in front of NLD headquarters which announced election predictions. The NLD is claiming a landslide victory, moving it into Parliament where in can work with other opposition groups on legislation towards national reconciliation. Photo: Mizzima

The party ran candidates in 44 seats. The victory mirrors a landslide victory in the 1990 election, which at that time was not honoured by the ruling military regime.

The vote confirms Aung San Suu Kyi, 66, as the opposition leader, putting her in an official position to shape public opinion and to try to draw support from government and military lawmakers, who she reached out to in the waning days of the campaign.

NLD supporters gathered in front of the LED screen at Rangoon headquarters, some still struggling to grasp the amazing transformation of Burmese politics over the past year and a half: seeing Suu Kyi released from house arrest and her rise to claim a seat in Parliament.

Some say the military-dominated government is using her as a tool to garner the removal of sanctions, a necessary step in opening up the country economically. The removal of a host of sanctions seems to be assured now, but until all political prisoners are released it’s doubtful that many countries will roll back all sanctions.

2015, the next parliamentary election date, is a long way off, but some people are already anticipating the day when Suu Kyi will run for president.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton congratulated Burma holding the poll. Speaking at a news conference in Istanbul, Turkey, she said the U.S. was committed to supporting the nation’s reform effort

“Even the most repressive regimes can reform, and even the most closed societies can open,” she said.

“It’s the people’s victory! We’ve taught them a lesson!” a shopkeeper named Thien told the Associated Press.

Other opposition party members said they achieved a clean sweep of all their contested seats; still opposition forces will have less than 10 per cent of the seats in Parliament.

Official results are expected to be confirmed by the Union Election Commission in about one week.

People are anticipating Suu Kyi’s verdict on the election: free and fair, or flawed?  Observers say that by Asian standards the election appears to have been well run reasonably clean; complaints so far have been nothing like the 2010 election which was shamelessly rigged, marred by ballot stuffing and other abuses.

Suu Kyi said on Friday the campaign period was not “free and fair,” and it was hampered by dirty tricks by the government. The democratic icon pushed herself relentlessly in the final weeks, leading her to suspend campaigning only days before the vote due to exhaustion. Despite the problems, Suu Kyi said she had no regrets.

Malgorzata Wasilewska, head of the European Union’s observer team, called the voting process “convincing enough” but stopped short of declaring it credible yet, according to the AP.

“In the polling stations that I visited … I saw plenty of good practice and good will which is very important,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley, who spearheaded legislation that tightened U.S sanctions in 2008, praised Suu Kyi and the opposition for participating in the election, but said more reforms were needed.

“Now is not the time for the international community to rush toward lifting pressure on Burma,” said Crowley, who in January became the first House member to visit Burma in 12 years. “Far too many political prisoners are still locked behind bars, violence continues against ethnic minorities and the military dominates not only the composition but the structure of the government.”

David Scott Mathieson, an expert on Burma for Human Rights Watch, said, “the real danger of the by-elections is the overblown expectations many in the West have cast on them.”

“The hard work really does start afterward,” he said. “Constitutional reform, legal reform, tackling systemic corruption, sustainable economic development, continued human rights challenge …will take many years.”

But for now, the hard work can wait. The Burmese people are savoring a rare win after decades of struggle that cost many lives and saw generations of Burmese democratic leaders sent to prison for their support of democracy.

And many prisoners of conscience remain jailed today, unable to fully enjoy the historic win.

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