Aung San Suu Kyi has hailed “the beginning of a new era” in Burma’s politics after the country’s Election Commission confirmed that her party had won a spectacular 40 out of 45 parliamentary seats in Sunday’s historic byelection.
General Secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi is one of the world’s most famous political dissidents, as well as a 1991 Nobel Laureate.
The confirmation was announced late on Monday on state TV and was three fewer seats than Suu Kyi’s party had earlier claimed, but is a stunning victory nonetheless. This means that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi will hold a public office for the first time, although she will be joining a Parliament that is still overwhelmingly controlled by the military-backed ruling party.
As first reported in The Guardian, the newly-elected leader spoke to thousands of red-clad supporters on Monday, April 2, outside the headquarters of her opposition party, the NLD, calling the election “a triumph of the people” and said: “We hope this will be the beginning of a new era.”
A Long Journey Since 1990
It has been a long journey since 1990. In the general election that year, the NLD won 59% of the national votes and 81% (392 of 485) of the seats in Parliament. But Suu Kyi had already been arrested, the results were discounted, and she remained under house arrest for almost 15 of the next 21 years until her most recent release on 13 November 2010.
In Sunday’s byelections, the NLD contested 44 of 45 open seats in Burma’s 664-seat parliament, a quarter of which are reserved for the military, which ruled the nation for nearly half a century. In 2010 a partially civilian government, led by president Thein Sein, took power and has since introduced a series of reforms, from the easing of censorship laws to the release of many political prisoners, that are slowly opening up Burma to the outside world.
Sunday’s elections were seen as a barometer for the government’s commitment to change. To many here they represented a sea change; for the first time in two decades people in 44 districts across Myanmar had the chance to vote for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the NLD.
And that may indicate a more important change in 2015, when the next general elections will take place, and the NLD could garner many more seats. Meanwhile, it’s possible that Sunday’s gains could mean a push to move forward and end sanctions aginst Myanmar.
Over 1000 Political Prisoners Remain Behind Bars
For many of us activists, this brings a sense of personal happiness, as we have campaigned over the past two decades to secure the release of this amazing woman. But let’s not forget that more than a thousand political prisoners remain behind bars in Myanmar, and many of these are prisoners of conscience. Aung San Suu Kyi’s election to political office does mark a significant step to democracy after years of military dictatorship, but Myanmar still has a long way to go.
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