Nicolas Asfouri / AFP / Getty Images

Myanmar ruling party concedes defeat as Suu Kyi's party heads for big win

Aung San Suu Kyi appeared on course for a landslide victory that could ensure it forms the next government

The party of democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi claimed victory Monday in virtually every seat in four states where results of Myanmar's historic parliamentary election were known, signaling a sweep that is likely to hand it the presidency and further loosen the military's stranglehold.

The announcement at the headquarters of the National League for Democracy (NLD) set off a new round of jubilation among the party's red-shirted supporters, who already had been celebrating the result of Sunday's vote.

The NLD said it had won 44 of the 45 lower house seats and all 12 of the upper house seats from the party stronghold of Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city and former capital. It also won all 38 seats in Ayeyarwaddy state, all but one of the 40 in Bago, and 11 out of 19 lower house seats and all 10 upper house seats in Mon state. The trend was expected to continue in Myanmar's remaining 10 states.

Even without official results, it was clear that the ruling Union Solidarity Development Party was facing a rout. The party is made up former junta members who ruled the Southeast Asian country for a half-century and as a quasi-civilian government since 2011. Many of its leaders conceded personal defeats in their races.

“We lost,” Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) acting chairman Htay Oo told Reuters a day after the Southeast Asian country's first free nationwide election in a quarter of a century. 

Other members of the ruling party were conceding defeat as the count continued. 

Shwe Mann, speaker of the lower house of Parliament and former head of the ruling USDP, announced his defeat in a Facebook post Monday morning, as the country awaited official results of the historic polls.

The post said: “Congratulations!” to his opponent from the opposition National League for Democracy party in their central Myanmar constituency. Shwe Mann said he went to his opponent's home to convey congratulations in person at 6:30 Monday morning.

His rejection by the voters, despite his reputation as a moderate, could suggest the depth of support for the opposition NLD.

In her first comments after Sunday's elections, Suu Kyi called for the country to remain “calm, peaceful and stable” as it awaits the outcome of the election.

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

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

The NLD had thousands of monitors deployed across Myanmar during the vote, keeping track as each polling station closed and publicly announced its totals. That was expected to give NLD leaders a solid estimate of final numbers long before official totals were announced.

Suu Kyi is barred from taking the presidency herself by provisions of a constitution written by the military junta to preserve its power. The amendment bars anyone with a foreign spouse or child from holding the president's and vice presidents' positions. Suu Kyi's two sons are British, as was her late husband.

But if the NLD on its own or with allies wins more than two-thirds of the seats up for grabs and is able to form Myanmar's first democratically elected government since the early 1960s, Suu Kyi says she will be the power behind the new president regardless of a constitution she has derided as "very silly."

After the polls, the newly elected members and the military appointees will propose three candidates, and elect one as the president. The other two will become vice presidents. That vote won't be held before February.

The military is also guaranteed key ministerial posts — defense, interior and border security. The military is not under the government's control and could continue attacks against ethnic groups. But critics are most concerned about the military's constitutional right to retake direct control of government, as well as its direct and indirect control over the country's economy.

Sunday's vote was billed as the freest ever in this Southeast Asian nation, which has been run by a quasi-civilian government for the last five years in a scripted transition toward democracy. Many of the eligible 30 million voters cast ballots for the first time, including Suu Kyi, the epitome of the democracy movement.

"DAWN OF A NEW ERA. Millions vote in historic election," was the banner headline of New Light of Myanmar, a government-owned newspaper, on Monday, reflecting how much Myanmar has changed since the military gave up its half-century rule in 2011.

Although 91 parties contested, the main fight was between the NLD and the ruling Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP), made up largely of former junta members. A host of other parties from ethnic minorities, who form 40 percent of Myanmar's 52 million people, are also running.

The main concern about the election's fairness arose before the poll. Activists estimated that up to 4 million people, mostly citizens working abroad, would not be able to vote.

Religious tension, fanned by Buddhist nationalists whose actions have intimidated Myanmar's Muslim minority, also marred the election campaign. Among those excluded from voting were around a million Rohingya Muslims who are effectively stateless in their own land.

Most Rohingya Muslims live in Rakhine state, where hundreds have been killed since 2012. The United Nations says they are one of the most persecuted ethnic groups in the world. Suu Kyi campaigned in Rakhine State but avoided Rohingya areas.

Although the Sunday vote was peaceful the NLD filed an official complaint before the election commission about violations of voting regulations. There were allegations of errors in the voter list and irregularities in advance voting. 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement the election was an important step forward, but added it was "far from perfect."

Important impediments remain to a fully democratic civilian government, Kerry said, "including the reservation of a large number of unelected seats for the military; the disfranchisement of groups of people who voted in previous elections, including the Rohingya; and the disqualification of candidates based on arbitrary application of citizenship and residency requirements."

Still, there was excitement among voters about the first general election since a quasi-civilian government replaced military rule in 2011, which was widely seen as a referendum on the country's unsteady reform process.

"I've done my bit for change, for the emergence of democracy," said Daw Myint, a 55-year-old former teacher, after she cast her vote for the NLD in Yangon.

Many voters doubted the military would accept the outcome of the vote if the NLD wins.

But in the capital, Naypyitaw, military Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing said there would be no repeat of the last free vote in 1990, which Suu Kyi's party won overwhelmingly. A shocked army refused to seat the winning lawmakers, with the excuse that a new constitution first had to be implemented —- a task that ended up taking 18 years amid intense international pressure. New elections were finally held in 2010, but they were boycotted by the opposition, which cited unfair election laws.

The USDP won by default and took office in 2011 under President Thein Sein, a former general who began political and economic reforms to end Myanmar's isolation and jump-start its moribund economy. The USDP's popularity, or lack of it, was again tested in a 2012 by-election in which the NLD won 43 of the 44 parliamentary seats it contested.

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