- Associated Press - Monday, November 9, 2015

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party was confident Monday that it was headed for a landslide victory in Myanmar’s historic elections, as the democracy icon urged supporters not to provoke losing rivals who mostly represent the former junta that ruled this Southeast Asian nation for a half-century.

The opposition National League of Democracy had won about 70 percent of the votes counted by midday Monday, party spokesman Win Htein said. The comments, if confirmed by official results that began trickling in, indicate that Suu Kyi’s party would not only dominate Parliament but could also secure the presidency despite handicaps built into the constitution.

“We will win a landslide,” Nyan Win, another party spokesman, told The Associated Press.

“I want Mother Suu to win in this election,” said Ma Khine, a street vendor, referring to the 70-year-old Suu Kyi with an affectionate term many here use. “She has the skill to lead the country. I respect her so much. I love her. She will change our country in a very good way.”

The government’s Election Commission started announcing official results late Monday afternoon, saying that the NLD had won 12 lower house seats from the main city of Yangon. The announcement elicited raucous cheers outside the opposition party’s headquarters.

The 12 seats were among 45 representing townships in Yangon. The commission was expected to announce more results later Monday.

The NLD has been widely expected to finish with the largest number of seats in Parliament.

Anticipating an imminent victory, more than 1,000 people gathering in front of the NLD headquarters in Yangon, many wearing red party T-shirts with the slogan “We Must Win” on the back.

No matter the results, the election will not create a fully democratic Myanmar, which ended a half-century of military rule in 2011, followed by a quasi-civilian government run by a party made up of former military figures now expected to fare badly in the elections. The constitution reserves 25 percent of parliamentary seats for the military, and was rewritten to keep Suu Kyi from the presidency.

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.

Suu Kyi, however, has said she will act as the country’s leader if the NLD wins the presidency, saying she will be “above the president.”

In her first comments after Sunday’s elections, Suu Kyi told a crowd gathered at the NLD party headquarters that while vote tabulations wouldn’t be announced until later, “I think you all have the idea of the results.”

“It is still a bit early to congratulate our candidates who will be the winners,” she said. “I want to remind you all that even candidates who didn’t win have to accept the winners but it is important not to provoke the candidates who didn’t win to make them feel bad.”

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.

Win Htein, the NLD spokesman, told the AP that the party’s strongest showing is in the heartland states, where it appears to be garnering 80 percent of the votes. The support falls off slightly to 70-50 percent in the states dominated by ethnic minorities.

“DAWN OF A NEW ERA. Millions vote in historic election,” was the banner headline Monday of the New Light of Myanmar, a government-owned newspaper and long a mouthpiece for ruling juntas, reflecting just how much Myanmar has changed in recent years.

The vote was billed as the freest ever in this Southeast Asian nation, which for the first time was monitored by thousands of domestic and international observers, who said it went well. Many of the eligible 30 million voters cast ballots for the first time, including Suu Kyi (full name pronounced “ahng sahn soo chee”), widely revered as the embodiment of the country’s dreams for democratic reform.

“I am so happy and I am not the only person, the whole country is happy. I think she is a perfect leader for our country and a woman of perfection,” said 71-year-old Khin Maung Htay, who was listening to Suu Kyi’s speech.

Although 91 parties fielded candidates Sunday, the main fight was between the NLD and the ruling Union Solidarity Development Party, which is 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 junta, which seized power in a 1962 coup, annulled the results when Suu Kyi’s party won a sweeping victory in 1990 elections. A new vote was held in 2010, but the opposition boycotted it saying the election laws were unfair.

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. But the USDP was battered in a 2012 by-election in which the National League for Democracy won 43 of the 44 parliamentary seats it contested.

After the election results are finalized, the new members of parliament and the military appointees will propose three candidates, and then elect one as president. The other two will become vice presidents.

The NLD would need an overwhelming win to take the presidency because of the seats reserved for the military, all of which now go to the USDP.

As hundreds of supporters waited outside the NLD headquarters in Yangon, crowds started singing a song called “The Strong Peacock,” in reference to the party’s symbol, which became popular during the campaign period.

“She is the people’s leader that the whole world knows,” they sang. “Write your own history in your hearts for our future, so the dictatorship will end. Go, go, go (away) dictatorship.”

___

Associated Press journalists Vijay Joshi, Robin McDowell, Grant Peck, Denis Gray and Jerry Harmer in Yangon and Jocelyn Gecker in Bangkok contributed to this report.

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