By Francis Wade
Burmese in their thousands are reveling across Rangoon and much of the rest of the country this evening following what appears to be the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD)’s resounding win in Sunday’s by-elections.
Early results indicate that party leader Aung San Suu Kyi has taken the rural constituency of Kawhmu, where she spent Saturday evening and Sunday morning traveling from village to village to galvanise support for the vote.
Her convoy was flanked by dozens of journalists who flew in from across the world to document this most historic of occasions, many of whom had camped out overnight in the, until recently, anonymous region south of Burma’s former capital.
Outside of the party headquarters in Rangoon this evening thousands gathered to watch unofficial results come in. Supporters perched on the hillside opposite the office to watch the party unfold, and upstairs in the building, away from the media fanfare, senior party members, including chairman Tin Oo and spokesperson Nyan Win, began counting seats.
Tin Oo told DVB earlier in the day that with Suu Kyi’s victory, the NLD “can now do something in the parliament”.
“Her personality is very strong and it influences Burmese – it can influence all aspects of liberty, security, democracy and human rights. She is the flicker of a light for democracy, and that’s why she must get into parliament.”
There is quiet concern however that the celebrations may be premature, given that polling only closed late this afternoon. That over-eagerness to claim victory befell the National Democratic Force in the 2010, which announced several constituency wins that were then nullified when advance votes were counted.
Outside one polling booth this afternoon, however, Malaysia’s ambassador to Burma, Ahmed Faisal Muhamad, told DVB that “ the majority of election observers” were happy with polling, an opinion shared by India’s representative to the monitoring team, who described the process as “remarkable”.
But despite the doubts, what is clear in the streets of Rangoon and beyond is the tremendous support Suu Kyi has. In Kawhmu yesterday, while hundreds of villagers lined the roads awaiting her arrival, members of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) wore glum faces as they sat in trucks snubbing approaches from journalists.
None of the fanfare that has trailed Suu Kyi round the country has been witnessed by the USDP, which claimed a landslide victory in the 2010 nationwide polls.
The crowds outside the NLD headquarters erupted in cheers as results came in from polling booths across Burma – famed hip hop star Zayar Thaw took the seat in the army stronghold and Burmese capital, Naypyidaw; two constituencies in Mandalay went to NLD, as did Mingalartaungnyunt township in Rangoon, and more. Traffic jams on roads leading to the office snaked back hundreds of meters and people instead opted to walk to the dilapidated, but quietly iconic, building on West Shwegondaing Street.
The celebrations, likely Rangoon’s biggest in decades, are likely to go on into the night. There remains uncertainty about when the official results will come in, but the events of today and the past few months show, unsurprisingly, which candidate Burma’s populace have flocked to.