BURMA ELECTION X – ‘I would die for Aung San Suu Kyi’

The NLD has won by a landslide in the by-election in Myanmar, securing 43 of the 44 seats it contested. This blog has been covering the election live from Yangon.

After the mania surrounding Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech died down and The Lady went home to rest, what were the feelings of party officials and members inside the National League for Democracy’s Yangon HQ?

1. Ye Naung

The 23-year-old member of the NLD’s Youth Generation reveals a scar on the right-side of his head. It is a permanent reminder of the violent treatment he suffered at the hands of the police when he was just 18 and taking part in pro-democracy protests. Amongst mouthfuls of rice and green pepper curry he went on to speak movingly of his love for his ‘Mother Suu’.

“I fully believe in Aung San Suu Kyi. I would give everything for her. I would die for her”

2. Daw Lai Lai

For party official Daw Lai Lai, 64, the possible hurdles the NLD may face in parliament from the government’s Union Solidarity and Development Party are dismissed with a laugh and a swish of hand. She confirms that the NLD policy of hoping to change the constitution will be pursued in parliament but underlines the momentum that comes with the landslide win “this is no time to stop and party”. Daw Lai Lai also reiterates that “the people do not want a military government and points out how she feels the country should be restructured in two upheavals:

“The military under the government. And the government under the people.”

3. Dr Myo Aung

Former physician Myo Aung is one of the new MPs who will be representing the NLD in parliament. The doctor had been jailed for twelve-month sentences on two separate occasions for speaking out against the government.

He cited five main concerns in his Seik Kan township, 25 miles outside Yangon, that he wanted to raise in the capital, Naypyidaw. They were, firstly: lack of infrastructure; access to running water; and efficient electricity supply. And also the problems of water-borne diseases prevalent in the rainy season when open sewers spill out onto the streets and the issue of compensation for local farmers who had been subjected to compulsory purchase yet had not been rewarded for the move.

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BURMA ELECTION IX – ‘We are with you, Mother’

The NLD has won by a landslide in the by-election in Myanmar, securing 43 of the 44 seats it contested. This blog is covering the election live from Yangon.

As we approached the city headquarters of the National League for Democracy this morning, traffic slowed to a standstill. People had massed on a hill opposite the office, climbed nearby trees and were leaning over roofs. A crowd of this size could only mean one thing: The Lady was in town.

She had returned to Yangon last night after spending most of the election day in her village, Wat Thien Kha. She addressed the thrilled public, made up of ecstatic supporters and journalists jumping about for space. Aung San Suu Kyi is affectionately known as ‘Amay Suu’, or ‘Mother Suu’, amongst her people and the red-clad NLD voters certainly treat her with an untouchable matriarchal reverence.

She made her way from party HQ to her house on the gentle shores of Inya Lake to have some down-time after an exhausting campaign. But the Mother has been elected to the Pyithu Hluttaw (lower house) in an historic vote and will be back on her feet before too long.

BURMA ELECTION VIII – As-Live Report from Yangon

The people of Myanmar have voted in a by-election for 45 parliamentary seats. This blog is covering the election live from Yangon

Residents of Myangone township in north of Yangon hold community meetings in open houses to air their frustrations to the Association of South East Asian Nations observers at not being able to vote in the election

BURMA ELECTION VII – A chance for freedom

The people of Myanmar are going to the polls to vote in a by-election for 45 parliamentary seats. This blog is covering the vote live from Yangon

Millions of people across the country are heading to the ballot boxes to cast their votes in this historic election. Some people have been turning up in family groups, others on their own, clutching their pink registration cards.

Feelings of excitement have been running through the city since polls opened at 0600 local time. In Mingalar Thaung Nyaunt township, in downtown Yangon, 64-year-old U Dan Suu said he was “very happy for this opportunity”. A young woman who voted shortly after him was also pleased to have had “a chance for freedom”.

A 72-year-old man, who wished to remain anonymous, said “I want to be [living] under a democracy. We had democracy here, before 1962. I want it again.” He believed that Pyu Pyu Din, the local NLD candidate, would win easily, although he himself was not voting because his township is not holding a by-election.

The elation has been tempered elsewhere by reports of fraud and intimidation by the ruling, government-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.

Last night, in Aung San Suu Kyi’s Kawmhu constituency, government party campaigners turned up in 15-20 vehicles to speak to the residents. One local woman told Burmese media that the USDP were trying to trick the pro-NLD villagers into putting a tick next to Suu Kyi’s name on the ballot paper if they liked her and a cross next to USDP if they were against the ruling party. Such a move would spoil the sheet. There were also reports that people were being bribed to turn up to a USDP open-air campaigning event.

The international observers have a real job on their hands and there are simply too many polling stations in each township to be able to attend them all. Local officials are trying to monitor the voting but some members of the NLD have already been running around totting up the votes they have received hour-by-hour. Some results should be out within a few hours of the vote; the scores from other townships may take up to a week to verify and release.

BURMA ELECTION VI – On the road to Kawmhu

The people of Myanmar are going to the polls to vote in a by-election for 45 parliamentary seatsThis blog is covering the vote live from Yangon

On the eve of the election, Aung San Suu Kyi made the two-hour drive from Yangon to her constituency home in the Kawmhu township. The route was dusty and humid but village after village came out onto the track to cheer and greet the convoy as it followed the NLD leader to her house.

Awaiting her arrival

The USDP (party with a government majority) cruise through in an eleventh-hour attempt to whip up support. A losing battle in such a fanatically NLD district

Riding in the convoy en route to Aung San Suu Kyi’s township home

BURMA ELECTION I – Democratic militants in Myanmar

On 1 April Burma will hold a by-election for 45 parliamentary seatsThis blog will cover it live from Yangon

If you had to name someone from Myanmar right now, the chances are that the name Aung San Suu Kyi will be on the tip of your tongue. She is deservedly held up as the epitome of democracy campaigners. She has shown how the human spirit can endure hardship (in her case illicit imprisonment). And she has been a successful woman amongst the male mists of a reclusive nation. She is a beacon for Burmese democracy and, crucially, she is not alone. There are other beacons being lit by other determined, multi-party-minded activists.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) is the most well-known of the Burmese opposition parties. She has certainly been campaigning hard as the 1 April by-election comes ever nearer and international broadcasters have been picking up her flag-waving and hand-shaking. It seems to outsiders looking in that she and her followers will sweep to victory in the very few seats (48 out of 664) seats that are being contested this spring.

Much has been made of the fact that this is the first time that Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD are running in a general election since they won the vote held in 1990. Her reward for the poll success then was the devastating house arrest from which she was only freed in 2010. This time excitement is brewing that her reward will be a true place in the Amyotha Hluttaw (lower house).

But the NLD are not the only opposition party looking to win seats in parliament. The National Democratic Force broke off from the NLD in order to compete in the last polls, in November 2010, which the NLD boycotted. The NDF currently has four MPs in the lower house and will be looking to build on this representation. There has been rivalry as well as friendship between the NLD and the NDF but it seems that the less well-known party is determined to achieve electoral success without the force of Suu Kyi on side.

Burma has many different ethnic nationalities, from the Mon of the eastern delta to the Shan of the central east and the Kachin of the far north in the hills on the border with China. Many of these groups have also formed political parties under the democratic banner and are running for power as well.

The ongoing process of reforms seems to be following Cuba’s Castro timescale (‘without rushing but without stopping’) and so far the US and the UK have seen enough to have flown in Hillary Clinton and William Hague to support the changes. The US has re-opened ambassadorial ties and the EU is discussing an easing of sanctions.

The path to democracy is now being trodden by the Burmese, with Aung San Suu Kyi at the head of the line. But it is important not to forget the other campaigners from different parties also dreaming of a better future and their efforts must be recognised as well. A strong democratic opposition to the military’s grip on parliament can only be built through a wide coalition of ethnicities and political leanings. Suu Kyi’s charisma is welcome and something that cannot be ignored by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party. But there are other democrats, and their voices must be heard too.

This blog will cover the by-election live from Burma on 1 April