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‘We hope this will be the beginning of a new era’

(Mizzima) – Newly elected Member of Parliament Aung San Suu Kyi said on Monday she hopes this is the start of a new era in Burma, following a big election win on Sunday that may prompt the U.S. and European Union to lift significant sanctions.
A throng of media representatives jockey to find a good position to photograph Aung San Suu Kyi at the National League for Democracy headquarters in Rangoon on Monday, April 2, 2012. Photo: Mizzima / Lynn Bo Bo
The chairman of the Rangoon region of the Election Commission said official results may be known by Monday morning. The National League for Democracy (NLD), her party, claimed it has won 43 or 44 parliamentary seats based on unofficial results.

Suu Kyi told several hundred people at NLD party headquarters on Monday in Rangoon, “We hope that this will be the beginning of a new era.”

The daughter of the nation’s founder, General Aung San, she will be expected to bring change to the poverty-ridden country of 60 million people.

“We need jobs, electricity and water and life is so hard right now,” said Thein Tan, roadside clothes vendor who voted on Sunday. “She is very influential, and she will change our country.”

Suu Kyi warned her fellow elected parliamentarians on Monday morning at a press conference at party headquarters that, “From now on, you should not think that we have won, but that this is a starting point to work [and carry out our duties].”

Some observers said that President Thein Sein’s failure to kick out corrupt ministers and his inability to remove red tape in bureaucracy amongst mid and low-level administrators are factors that kept the majority of the voters away from voting for the ruling party during the by-election.

Even in their stronghold of the capital Naypyitaw, initial unofficial polling results showed the ruling party had lost out to the NLD. The NLD said their party had won all four constituencies in the capital, including the constituency vacated by Thein Sein.

Nyo Ohn Myint, a peace facilitator between the government and the armed ethnic groups, said: “From a military perspective, the landslide victory is a threat to the state, which has been in power for more than 50 years. So in that case Daw Aung San Suu Kyi must be very friendly in her approach with the ruling party.”

“I'm really worried, my concern is that the current ruling hardliners are really scared. This is a very scary moment for them from now until 2015.”

Meanwhile others were looking at opportunities that may lie ahead.

“It's the beginning of a long process for Myanmar to join the Asian century,” Douglas Clayton, founder and chief executive officer of Cambodia-based Leopard Capital, who plans to raise $100 million for a fund to invest in Myanmar once sanctions are lifted, told Bloomberg News. “There will be very little reason to maintain sanctions after this election is accepted.”

Suu Kyi is already focusing on her parliamentary duties. “We hope that all other parties that took part in the elections will be in a position to cooperate with us to create a genuinely democratic atmosphere in our nation,” she said on Sunday, adding that the party will meet with winning candidates and issue a comprehensive report on the elections later.

President Thein Sein's ruling party and the military will still control more than 80 per cent of parliamentary seats.

Burma invited a limited number of election monitors and journalists from the U.S., EU and neighboring countries. The by-elections “are a key moment in national reconciliation and should allow a substantial review of EU policy vis-a-vis Myanmar,” Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, said in a March 28 statement.

Fears of rampant election fraud were largely unrealized on Sunday, with most reports so far centering on minor infractions. Surprisingly, many observers said it was a clean and fair election compared to Asian standards.

Meanwhile, various statesmen and observers weighed in on the historic vote.

Burmese Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, speaking to reporters in Phnom Penh ahead of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit, called the elections “free, fair and transparent,” according to the Associated Press. Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said poll observers reported a high turnout, while Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said the voting would further ensure recent reforms would be “irreversible,” the AP reported.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr on Monday called the election a substantial step forward.

“We're disposed to ease sanctions once the elections we've seen are ticked off as having been genuine,” he said, while cautioning that Burma still has repressive laws on the books and thousands of political prisoners still in custody. “Our consideration of easing sanctions will be proportionate,” he said, and will occur after talks with other Southeast Asian nations, the U.S. and Europe.

One unexpected fallout of the election is that the ramshackled NLD headquarters, known affectionately as “the cow shed,” is now a symbol of world-famous dissident Aung San Suu Kyi and her political party, and it’s turned into a hot new stop on Asia's tourist trail, reports Patrick Barta of the Wall Street Journal:

“Why go to the beaches of Thailand when you can do this?” asked Jan Van den Broeck, a 24-year-old Belgian traveler, as he poked through Suu Kyi souvenir calendars and T-shirts, including one bearing her image and the words, “I love you all.”

Tables were stacked high with piles of Aung San Suu Kyi shirts, posters, key chains, baseball caps, and images of The Lady wearing colorful tribal hats.

On a more serious note, the state-run newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar, in its April 2 election story made no mention of Aung San Suu Kyi or the National League of Democracy. The story ticked off where various high government officials voted on election day. Burma has prior censorship of all newspapers and journals.

Suu Kyi must now switch from campaigning to organizing a neophyte group of NLD legislators while trying to build bridges and close the ideological gap between many former generals who are now high government officials. She will bring a new focus and spirit to the opposition politicians in Parliament.

She told the press on Monday that she would look for a second home in Naypyitaw, the capital, which is a four-hour drive from the commercial capital Rangoon. “Because don't forget I have a dog,” she said, “and I have to take him with me.”

Tai Chi Toe, a gift from her son, Kim, will be a welcome distraction, wrote Andrew Marshall of Reuters, because Naypyitaw is reputedly so dull no foreign embassy has moved there. With Suu Kyi in the Parliament in Naypyitaw that may change.
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 03 April 2012 09:30 )  

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