NLD Sweeps Parliamentary By-Elections

Aung San Suu Kyi’s party wins 40 of 44 seats, signifying a ‘new era’ in Burmese politics.
2012-04-02
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Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to supporters at NLD headquarters in Rangoon, April 2, 2012.
RFA

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi hailed a “new era” in Burmese politics Monday after her National League for Democracy party swept parliamentary by-elections over the weekend, promising to uphold her campaign commitments of democratic reform in the Southeast Asian nation.

Speaking to a crowd of joyful well-wishers at her party headquarters in Rangoon, the 66-year-old Nobel laureate called the victory a “triumph of the people, who have decided that they must be involved in the political process of this country.”

State media confirmed that the NLD won 40 of 44 legislative seats it had contested in Sunday’s polls—an unprecedented victory for the party, which had boycotted national elections in November of 2010 that ushered in a nominally civilian government to replace the former ruling military junta.

No official statement has been issued by Burma’s Election Commission, which had said that it would announce the official results in about a week. A total of 45 seats were up for grabs in the elections to fill positions vacated by legislators who took up government posts.

While the NLD win represents only a small fraction of the Burmese parliament’s 664 seats, 80 percent of which are already controlled by the military-backed ruling party and the armed forces itself, the party counted a number of symbolic victories.

Aung San Suu Kyi won her first seat in parliament after spending the majority of two decades under house arrest before her release in 2010.

The party surprisingly won all four seats in the capital Naypyidaw, the residents of which are mostly government employees and civil servants. The junta had prevented the NLD from taking power after winning national elections in a landslide election in 1990, the last time the party took part in polls.

And Aung San Suu Kyi said the victory showed the importance of a public “enthusiastic about participating in the democratic process.”

She expressed her hope that the various interests of Burma could work together to further the goal of national reconciliation and welcomed the country’s political parties to join the NLD in “bringing peace and prosperity to our country.”

Election irregularities

Aung San Suu Kyi vowed to uphold the commitments she campaigned on, including fostering respect for the rule of law, an end to Burma’s ethnic conflicts, and amending the country’s constitution, which was revised in 2008 under the former military regime.

And while elated over the election results, she also cautioned against overlooking a number of polling irregularities she said the NLD would file complaints about to the Burmese Election Commission in coming days.

“We will point out all the irregularities that took place—not in any spirit of vengeance or anger, but because we do not think that these should be overlooked,” she said.

“We do not think that such practices should be encouraged in any way. And so it is only with the intention of making sure that things improve in the future that we will be filing all of our complaints with regard to the irregularities that have taken place towards the elections.”

International election observers from the U.S., EU and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) all monitored the elections on Sunday.

Malgorzata Wasilewska, head of the EU's observer team, called the voting process "convincing enough," though she would not label the elections entirely credible.

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

Some NLD candidates had complained that wax had been applied over the NLD tick-box on ballot papers to prevent voters from choosing the party and that thousands of voters, including an entire village in one instance, were missing from the rolls of eligible participants.

Lifting sanctions?

Still, the U.S. and EU hailed the elections, congratulating the Burmese government for the latest in a number of reforms instituted since taking power in March last year.

The reforms, which included the release of political prisoners, relaxed media censorship, and a managed float of the kyat currency, are the most dramatic since the military took power in a 1962 coup in the former British colony.

The White House on Monday called the by-election “an important step in the country's democratic transformation.”

"We hope it is an indication that the government of Burma intends to continue along the path of greater openness, transparency and reform," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

The statement also praised the participation of the Burmese people in the electoral process and congratulated Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD for their “strong showing in the polls.”

The EU also applauded the elections, and suggested that it might further lift economic sanctions on Burma ahead of a policy review when foreign ministers of the 27-nation bloc meet on April 23 in Luxembourg. The EU eased sanctions earlier this year to encourage additional reforms in the country.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s win could pave the way to a run for the Burmese presidency in 2015, when the next general elections are schedule to be held.

Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.