'People's triumph' heralds new age of democracy, claims exultant Suu Kyi

 

Rangoon

Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday claimed her party had secured a landslide victory in a series of by-elections and said that it marked the start of a new era for her country after decades of repression.

In an impassioned speech at her party's flower-strewn headquarters in Rangoon, the 66-year-old called on other political parties to work together for change. "It is not so much our triumph as a triumph of the people, who have decided that they must be involved in the political process of this country," she said to cheering crowds.

"We hope that this will be the beginning of a new era, when there will be more emphasis on the role of the people in the politics of our country. We hope other parties that took part in the elections will be in a position to co-operate with us."

Official results have not yet been announced but Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) said its own research suggests it has won 44 of the 45 seats it contested. That would mean it even managed to win four seats in the capital, Naypyidaw, where most voters were government employees and military personnel who were expected to support the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

If claims of such a landslide prove to be true it would be a remarkable result. Supporters of Ms Suu Kyi will hope the government, which says it is genuine about transforming Burma into a real democracy, does not get spooked by the overwhelming mandate for the high-profile opposition leader.

So far, the USDP has declined to comment, but U Ko Ko Hlaing, a senior adviser to President Thein Sein, told The Independent he had been surprised by the results. "It's amazing for everyone. I guessed they would take the lion's share, but I didn't think [it would be] this much of a landslide victory for them.

"The top priority is national reconciliation and so far we had a very successful by-election. The NLD has now become the main opposition party. That's a significant step towards genuine democracy."

The government hopes the polls, the first for more than 20 years that appear to have been largely fair, will persuade the US and the EU to drop economic sanctions that expire at the end of April and have to be renewed annually. Yesterday, the EU hinted foreign ministers would begin lifting sanctions when they meet in three weeks. "We do expect the foreign ministers will recognise the changes and there will be a positive signal," Maja Kocijancic, an EU spokeswoman, told reporters, according to Reuters.

Ms Suu Kyi and the NLD have their eyes on a general election scheduled to take place in 2015 and, prior to the by-elections, officials said they were considered a dry-run. At the party headquarters, one of her supporters, Ye Naung, a 23-year-old who serves as one of her bodyguards, pulled back his hair to show a scar across his forehead from when he was beaten by police and jailed before being locked up during the 2007 Saffron Revolution. "I hope I spend the rest of my life in this office," he said. "I am not such a strong man, but I would die for Aung San Suu Kyi."

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