Amid Slow Vote Count, Myanmar Opposition 'Cautiously' Eyes Victory

Nov 10, 2015
Originally published on November 11, 2015 2:39 pm

In Myanmar, also known as Burma, initial vote counts show the pro-democracy opposition is headed for a decisive victory, two days after the freest elections in a generation. For two nights in a row, supporters of the National League for Democracy (NLD) have partied in the streets to celebrate their apparent victory.

One of the first NLD winners to be announced is feminist and pro-democracy activist Zin Mar Aung. She says opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is trying to keep the celebrations from getting out of hand.

Suu Kyi and NLD leaders "are trying to manage and control the overwhelming victory and the emotion of our people," she says. "We need to enjoy the victory cautiously."

Cautiously, she says, because if the party wins, Suu Kyi will need to form a ruling coalition — and she can't afford to alienate the election's losers.

Despite some political reforms over the past five years, 25 percent of the seats in parliament are still reserved for unelected military lawmakers. Even if the opposition wins, that will make it tough for them to push for further reforms.

As for Zin Mar Aung, she served 11 years in jail because of her activism with the NLD. She believes that activism helped pave the way for her electoral win. "I think it's a fruitful result of our previous activities and our previous commitments," she says.

But election results have been trickling in so slowly that the NLD is worried. It has made numerous allegations of vote-rigging to the authorities.

One reason the election may be hard to steal, though, is the presence of more than 10,000 domestic and foreign observers. One of them is Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and an observer with the Carter Center. She says the election puts Myanmar solidly on the path to democracy, and the enthusiasm of Burmese voters is a refreshing contrast to the apathy of some voters in more mature democracies.

"When you see how much it means and what a signal it is of a people's courage and determination to change, it's very moving," she says.

It's even more moving for the Burmese people themselves, who have fought for nearly two centuries to be free — first of British and Japanese colonial rule, and then a brutal military dictatorship.

"One of the first people we talked to had been waiting in line since 3 a.m." to vote, says Jason Carter, the incoming Carter Center board chairman and former President Jimmy Carter's grandson. "And I said, you know, 'Wow, that's a long time.' And he looked at me and said, 'No, I've been waiting so much longer.' "

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

In Myanmar, also known as Burma, initial vote counts show the pro-democracy opposition is headed for a decisive victory. The party has done well across most of the country and in its largest city, Yangon. The results are coming in two days after what's been called the freest elections there in a generation. But for reasons that aren't clear, the votes are taking a long time to count. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Yangon.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in foreign language).

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: For two nights in a row, supporters of the opposition National League For Democracy, or NLD, have partied in the streets outside NLD headquarters to celebrate their apparent victory. One of the first NLD winners to be announced is feminist and pro-democracy activist Zin Mar Aung. She's says opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is trying to keep the celebrations from getting out of hand. She uses the Burmese honorific daw before Suu Kyi's name.

ZIN MAR AUNG: Daw San Suu Kyi and NLD leaders are trying to, you know, manage and control the overwhelming victory and the emotion of our people. We need to enjoy the victory cautiously.

KUHN: Cautiously, she says, because if she wins, Suu Kyi will need to form a ruling coalition. And she can't afford to alienate the election's losers. Despite some political reforms over the past five years, 25 percent of the seats in Myanmar's parliament are still reserved for unelected military lawmakers. And even if the opposition wins, that'll make it tough for them to push for further reforms. As for Zin Mar Aung, she served 11 years in jail because of her activism with the NLD. She believes that activism paved the way for her electoral win.

AUNG: I think it's a fruitful result of our previous activities and our previous commitments.

KUHN: Maybe it means you didn't go to jail for nothing.

AUNG: Yes.

KUHN: But election results have been trickling in so slowly that it has the NLD worried. It's made numerous allegations of vote rigging to the authorities. One reason the election may be hard to steal, though, is the presence of more than 10,000 domestic and foreign observers. Mary Robinson is the former president of Ireland and an observer with the Atlanta-based Carter Center. She says the election puts Myanmar solidly on the path to democracy. And the enthusiasm of Burmese voters, she adds, is a refreshing contrast to the apathy of some voters in more mature democracies.

MARY ROBINSON: You know, when you see how much it means and what a signal it is of a people's courage and determination to change, it's very moving.

KUHN: It's even more moving for the Burmese people themselves, who have fought for nearly two centuries to be free - first of British and Japanese colonial rule and then a brutal Burmese military dictatorship. Jason Carter is incoming chairman of the board of trustees of The Carter Center and the grandson of President Jimmy Carter. He says he learned about the Burmese people's struggles straight from a voter on election day.

JASON CARTER: One of the first people we talked to in the morning had been waiting in line since 3 a.m. And I said, you know, wow, that sounds like a long time and he looked at me and said, no, I've been waiting so much longer.

KUHN: Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Yangon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.