Suu Kyi Claims Victory In Landmark Burma Election

Opposition leader Suu Kyi wins Burmese parliament seat, party says: The victory, if confirmed, would mark a major milestone in the Southeast Asian nation, where the military has ruled almost exclusively for a half-century

Burmese democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi all but completed her transformation from imprisoned icon to elected member of parliament Sunday as her party claimed it had won a resounding victory in a flawed election considered a key test of political reforms in Burma.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner’s allies said she had soundly defeated her opponent from the ruling party, recording wins at all but one of 128 polling stations in her rural constituency near this Southeast Asian nation’s former capital, Rangoon. With results still coming in Sunday evening, Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party projected it would claim 40 of 45 seats across Burma. The country’s election commission is expected to confirm the much-anticipated results in the coming days.
Despite the apparently overwhelming win by the NLD, Suu Kyi’s party will control only a tiny fraction of the 664 seats in the Burmese parliament, which remains dominated by the military and its supporters. The army itself is guaranteed a quarter of the seats.
But the vote was the most dramatic gesture yet in the government’s sudden turn toward reform after decades of unyielding oppression. Since becoming president of Burma one year ago, the former general Thein Sein has freed political prisoners and signed cease-fire agreements with rebel ethnic groups.
The moves are believed to be aimed at winning concessions from the West, which has long tried to isolate Burma in hopes of forcing the government to loosen its grip. In January, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that the United States would send an ambassador to Burma for the first time in more than two decades.
The U.S. government had identified Sunday’s poll as a critical measure of Burma’s progress, suggesting it may begin to dismantle a raft of economic sanctions against the nominally civilian regime. That is widely expected to happen in stages, as Washington seeks to maximize its leverage.
Clinton, who made a landmark visit to Burma at the end of last year in what was seen as a reward for Thein Sein’s reforms, gave a cautious reaction to the vote Sunday.
“We are following elections with great interest. With the results not yet announced, the United States congratulates the people who participated, many for the first time,” she said. “Going forward it will be critical for authorities to continue working toward a system that includes transparency.”
Sunday’s vote represented a further softening of a long-running standoff between the regime and Suu Kyi. After her party won elections in 1990, she spent 15 years out of the next two decades under house arrest before being freed less than a week after a rigged November 2010 election.
Many Burmese viewed Suu Kyi’s incarceration as an attempt to curtail her popularity, but she emerged from house arrest with an international following for her stand against despotism and with her domestic supporters energized.
Suu Kyi, who is the daughter of Burmese independence hero Aung San, will be 70 years old when Burma holds its next general election at the end of 2015. That poll is widely viewed as the true test of whether the regime is willing to move toward genuine democracy in the nation also known as Myanmar.

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