Aung San Suu Kyi, held under house arrest for almost 22 years by the ruling military junta in Burma, has now won a seat in the nation's parliament. The pro-democracy campaigner and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, along with 42 other members of the National League for Democracy' (NLD) party, claimed all but one available seat in elections over the weekend. Suu Kyi called the victories "a triumph of the people" and said she hoped it would "be the beginning of a new era" for Burma and its people.
"This is not so much our triumph as a triumph for people who have decided that they must be involved in the political process in this country," Suu Kyi said in a victory speech at NLD party headquarters in Yangon (also known as Rangoon)."We hope this will be the beginning of a new era," she said to her supporters. And in a conciliatory nod to the military leaders who so long held her captive, she continued: "We hope that all parties that took part in the elections will be in a position to cooperate with us in order to create a genuinely democratic atmosphere in our nation."
Observers who welcomed the victory, however, also expressed caution. The ruling military party has controlled the nation for decades, often with brutal repression, and though it has recently allowed openings for democratic reform, many feel that it could react violently if it feels its power too overtly threatened.
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The Guardian reports: Aung San Suu Kyi hails 'new era' for Burma after landslide victory
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.
While official results are not expected for several days, many Burmese consider Sunday's vote a landmark election that will forever change the course of the country's history.
"Look at us – we are so happy, it's like we've each been released from prison," said warehouse manager Myint Ng Than, 61, as men around him danced and sang along to a Johnny Cash-inspired anthem calling for the end of "sham democracy" outside the NLD headquarters. "We have freedom now. Amay Suu will save us."
Exiled opposition leader Nyo Ohn Myaint called Sunday's seeming victory a "very exciting moment" for Burma and the "sign of people power in the [country's] political development".
He warned, however, that there may be a backlash from the military and its government supporters in parliament, who comprise the significant majority of the non-military reserved seats.
"This is a very scary moment for the current ruling hardliners – this is not the way they wanted to see things go," he said. "They felt that they could win seats with the USDP [Union Solidarity and Development Party] and maybe at this point they will challenge the election results … and persuade the military personnel to defend the current ruling privileges."
Aung San Suu Kyi herself has acknowledged the threat of such a backlash, particularly as her first priority upon taking office will be to implement constitutional reforms – among them scrapping the requirement that the military must fill a quarter of all parliamentary seats. She told a news conference last week that the military must remember that "the future of this country is their future, and that reform in this country means reform for them as well".
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Agence France-Presse: Asian lawmakers warn against Myanmar 'euphoria'
A group of regional legislators said that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and others, in their response to the elections, should not overlook abuses committed under nearly half a century of military rule.
"The by-election process in which Suu Kyi participated should not mean that others forget all the crimes committed by the regime," said Eva Sundari, head of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus.
The caucus is a group of lawmakers from six Southeast Asian nations, and is not officially associated with ASEAN.
"We call on ASEAN countries in the upcoming summit (this week) in Phnom Penh not to display euphoria. There must be a fair approach over the serious human rights violations there (Myanmar)," Sundari told reporters in Jakarta. [...]
Observers believe Myanmar's new quasi-civilian government wanted Suu Kyi to win a place in parliament to burnish its reform credentials and smooth the way for an easing of Western sanctions.
Since March last year, when Myanmar's junta handed power to a nominally civilian government, the authorities have surprised even their critics with a string of reforms such as releasing hundreds of political prisoners.
But remaining political detainees, fighting between government troops and ethnic rebels, and alleged human rights abuses remain major concerns for Western nations which have imposed sanctions on the regime.
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Al-Jazeera video looks at the elections in Burma and the elation after the results:
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