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Suu Kyi eyes sweeping powers after ‘free but not fair’ Myanmar vote

Democracy figurehead says she will be 'making all the decisions,' sidestepping attempts by junta to clip her wings

Myanmar democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi has made it clear that she was ready to defy attempts by the country’s military to clip her wings, after a historic election she described as “largely free” showed her party heading for a landslide victory.

On Wednesday morning, Myanmar's election commission  announced that she had won her seat in the country's historic election. 

As vote tallies trickled in, Suu Kyi's long-oppressed National League for Democracy (NLD) looked set to take control of most regional assemblies as well as forming the central government, a triumph that will reshape the political landscape.

Under the constitution drawn up by Myanmar's former junta, Suu Kyi is barred by the constitution from taking the presidency because her children are foreign nationals — a clause few doubt was inserted specifically to rule her out.

But in two interviews Tuesday, the Nobel peace laureate said that, whoever was appointed president by the newly elected houses of parliament, she would call the shots.

She told the BBC that she would be “making all the decisions as the leader of the winning party” and Channel News Asia that the next president would have “no authority.”

Suu Kyi predicted that her NLD would win an outright majority. Asked by the BBC if the vote had been “fair and free,” she replied: “Fair no, free I think largely free.”

The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which was created by the junta and is led by retired soldiers, has conceded defeat in a poll that was a milestone on Myanmar's rocky path from dictatorship to democracy.

The NLD said its tally of results posted at polling stations showed it was on track to take more than two-thirds of seats that were contested in parliament, enough to form Myanmar's first democratically elected government since the early 1960s.

The party would win more than 250 of the 330 seats not occupied by the military in the lower house of parliament, NLD spokesman Win Htein predicted on Tuesday. Under the junta-crafted constitution, a quarter of the seats are unelected and reserved for the armed forces.

The election commission said the NLD had won at least 78 of the 88 seats declared so far for the 440-strong lower house. No seats have been declared in the upper house.

Official results also showed that Sunday's election had handed the NLD a landslide win in the battle for regional assemblies, with Suu Kyi's party winning at least 143 of the 165 seats declared so far for local legislatures and the USDP just 12.

“The difference between the parties is huge. It's a clear win,” said Sitida, a 37-year-old Buddhist monk in the central city of Mandalay who marched in the country's 2007 “Saffron Revolution” protests that were bloodily crushed by the junta.

Sitida, who was sentenced to 70 years in prison for his role in the demonstrations but was given amnesty as part of political reforms in 2011, said the military would now have to accept the NLD's win and negotiate an orderly retreat from politics.

“Daw Suu can make this happen. Daw Suu can convince them,“ he said, referring to Suu Kyi with an honorific.

However, while the USDP has been cut down and much of the establishment shaken by the extent of Suu Kyi's victory, the army remains a formidable power.

In addition to his bloc of parliament seats, the commander-in-chief nominates the heads of three powerful big-budget ministries — interior, defense and border security — and the constitution gives him the right to take over the government under certain circumstances.

The military has said it will accept the outcome of the election, and Suu Kyi said times have changed since the 1990 election she won in a landslide that the military ignored. She spent years under house arrest following that poll.

“I find that the people are far more politicized now than they were … so it's much more difficult for those who wish to engage in irregularities to get away with it,” she told the BBC.

Still, analysts say a period of uncertainty may be looming for the former Burma because it is not clear if Suu Kyi and the generals will be able to share power easily.

Suu Kyi has called for the country to remain “calm, peaceful and stable” as it awaited the official outcome of the election.

“There is no official result yet, but the people already know who has won,” she told her supporters outside NLD headquarters.

“It doesn't matter if you win or lose, but your dignity is important. The winner should show empathy to the losers.”

Voting did not take place in hundreds of villages in provinces where government forces are battling armed ethnic groups.

About 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims — considered illegal immigrants by the government, even though they have lived in Myanmar for generations — were not allowed to vote.

A Washington-based human rights group, United to End Genocide, warned ethnic and religious tension in Myanmar could boil over in the aftermath of the election and lead to violence.

In a statement, the group said the “poisoned atmosphere against Muslims in general [and] the Rohingya in particular will not be cleared with an election.”

Maung Win, a Muslim in Yangon, said he voted for the NLD.

“I think that Aung San Suu Kyi will not only be good to the Muslim community, but also the country as a whole,” he told Al Jazeera.

Neither the opposition nor the military-backed ruling party fielded a single Muslim candidate in Sunday's vote.

Sunday's election was the Southeast Asian nation's first general election since the military ceded power to a quasi-civilian government in 2011, ushering in reforms and opening up to foreign investors.

Money from abroad flowed in quickly as sanctions were eased. Foreign direct investment stood at $8 billion in fiscal 2014-15, more than five times the flows recorded just two years earlier.

Washington welcomed the election as a victory for Myanmar's people, but said it would watch for the democratic process to move forward before making any adjustments to remaining U.S. sanctions on a country long considered a pariah.

President Barack Obama has invested significant personal effort in Myanmar, visiting the country twice in the past three years, hoping to make its democratic transition a legacy of his presidency and an element of his strategic “pivot” to Asia.

Daniel Russel, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said that after 50 years of military dictatorship, “this was a hell of a step forward for the democratic process in Burma” but added: “Now comes the hard part.”

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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