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Myanmar Votes to Oust Military From Power

From Times Wire Services

In a stunning upset, the major opposition party of what was formerly Burma won a landslide victory over pro-military parties in Myanmar’s first multi-party elections in 30 years, the government conceded Monday.

The military regime promised to hand over power once a new constitution is drafted.

The victory by the opposition National League for Democracy, or NLD, is a big step toward the return of democracy in Myanmar, analysts said.

“They (the opposition) can move as quickly as they like to take power,” said Col. Ye Htut, a spokesman for the State Law and Order Restoration Council, the ruling military junta, which seized power in 1988 to crush pro-democracy demonstrations.

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Opposition leader Kyi Maung said his party’s objectives are the restoration of democracy and human rights to the country and the introduction of a free-enterprise economy.

If the pledge to step aside is honored, it will end an era of military-dominated socialist rule that has left the resource-rich Southeast Asian nation among the world’s poorest and most repressive countries.

Ye Htut said unofficial returns showed that the opposition won about two-thirds of the vote in both city and rural constituencies.

The NLD’s victory came despite the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, who helped form the party during the 1988 unrest, and the imprisonment of party co-leader Tin U. The NLD has said that one of its first acts when it assumes power will be to free them.

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It also plans to convene a conference of ethnic minorities to try to end the regional insurgencies that have tormented the country for more than 40 years.

Ye Htut told a news conference that the military’s only requirement for yielding power is that the newly elected legislature draft a new constitution. Once that is done, the military will step down and “the army will abide by the new constitution,” he said.

He added that no conditions or restrictions will be placed on the drafting of the constitution.

However, some Western diplomats have speculated that it could take months or even years for a new legislature to write a constitution.

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The information committee of the NLD said unofficial returns showed the party had won or is leading in races for 320 seats in the 485-seat National Assembly.

The committee said the well-financed, pro-military National Unity Party had won only two seats. That party is the former Burma Socialist Program Party, which ruled Burma for 26 years until 1988 under a one-party, military-backed system.

Official election announcements were slow in coming, with only 26 races declared, 24 won by the NLD and two by small parties allied with it. The government has said that final, official results could take as long as three weeks to announce.

The outcome showed that, despite a crackdown on opposition activists and tight controls on the campaign, the military had kept its promise to make the actual voting “free and fair.”

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Diplomats said the margin of the opposition victory must have surprised the government.

“The really substantial margins of victory has made it more difficult for the military to hang onto power in the long term,” a Western diplomat said. “The will of the people is unmistakable.”

Gen. Saw Maung, chairman of the ruling junta, had told reporters as he left the polls Sunday that he would turn over power “according to law” if the NLD won a majority.

But there is no clear law on the formation of a new government. Saw Maung abrogated the constitution when he seized power in September, 1988. Some analysts warned that hard-line elements in the military might push for a new round of repression or other maneuvers to hold on to power, once a contingent of foreign journalists covering the polling leaves the country.

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