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Aung San Suu Kyi’s party takes early lead in Myanmar’s historic election

Aung San Suu Kyi

As early election results come in, Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech from her party headquarers in Yangon on Nov. 9.

(Mark Baker / Associated Press)

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi appeared confident of victory in Myanmar’s landmark parliamentary election as her party jumped out to an early lead as the first results were announced Monday.

Suu Kyi, the activist who has led her country’s struggle against military rule for decades, hinted at a landslide win as she told supporters, “You all may know the probable election results, even though they haven’t been officially announced.”

Election officials announced that Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy had won 25 of the first 28 constituencies counted, out of the more than 400 being contested. They included all 12 constituencies in Yangon, the largest city and a party stronghold. 

Early results came from urban areas where Suu Kyi’s party was expected to do well. It could take days for returns to be announced from rural areas where military-backed candidates were favored. Suu Kyi’s party was widely expected to win the most seats in Sunday’s election, the freest vote in Myanmar’s history.

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With results trickling in throughout the day, party supporters gathered outside its Yangon headquarters to celebrate what they hoped would be a major turning point for a country that has been led by the military for more than five decades.

Addressing supporters for the first time since the polls closed Sunday, Suu Kyi cautioned raucous supporters -- many wearing T-shirts bearing her likeness, or the slogan, “We Must Win” -- against boasting about their victory. Her party was battling the ruling, military-aligned party for control of the parliament.

“It is important to win with dignity,” she said. “Winners have to be understanding of those who lose as well.”

Suu Kyi’s call for calm was at least in part of a reflection of the uncertain road ahead. Myanmar’s military has barred her, the most popular politician in the country formerly known as Burma, from becoming president. The army also holds one-quarter of parliamentary seats, meaning that unless Suu Kyi’s party wins a landslide, it may not gain an absolute majority in the legislature.

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The last time Myanmar held a nationwide vote, in 1990, Suu Kyi’s party won a major victory only to see the ruling junta invalidate the results and keep her under house arrest, where she would spend most of the next two decades. In 2011, the rulers ceded some powers to a pro-military civilian government, which began releasing political prisoners and loosening controls on freedom of speech.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry congratulated Myanmar on the election, saying the U.S. “commends all of the people and institutions in the country who worked together to hold a peaceful and historic poll.”

Obama administration officials have said the success of the election will determine whether the U.S. continues to expand economic ties with Myanmar.

International observers described Sunday’s vote, in which more than 30 million people were eligible to cast ballots, as relatively smooth. There were scattered reports of voters being turned away at polling stations because their names weren’t on voter rolls.

The chairman of the government election commission, Tin Aye, said it had received 48 reports of irregularities at polling stations, which the commission was investigating.

NEWSLETTER: Get the day’s top headlines from Times Editor Davan Maharaj >>

The challenges did not dampen the mood of the party faithful, who braved intense sun and then rain in the hope of glimpsing Suu Kyi.

“We have had the same government for so long, we need changes from top to bottom in this country,” said Kin Wun, a burger shop owner who came to the party headquarters with his 16-year-old daughter to watch the returns on a big screen.

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“According to the law, Daw Suu can’t be president,” Kim Wun said, referring to her as “Aunt Suu.” “But in our hearts she is already the president.”

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