Aung San Suu Kyi hails 'new era' for Burma after vote
State media in Burma have confirmed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in parliament in Sunday’s by-elections, which the 66-year-old democracy icon has hailed as a “triumph of the people”.
AFP - Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday hailed a "new era" for Myanmar and called for political unity after her party swept to victory in elections seen as a test of budding reforms.
The dramatic political changes were accompanied by the quasi-civilian government's most radical economic reform yet -- an overhaul of the country's complex currency regime.
Suu Kyi supporters celebrated into the night after her National League for Democracy (NLD) party declared that the Nobel laureate had secured a seat in parliament for the first time in Sunday's by-elections.
The veteran activist's election to political office, which was confirmed by state media, marks the latest sweeping change in the country formerly known as Burma after decades of outright military rule ended last year.
"This is not so much our triumph as a triumph for people who have decided that they must be involved in the political process in this country," Suu Kyi said in a victory speech at her party headquarters in Yangon.
"We hope this will be the beginning of a new era," said the 66-year-old known fondly as "The Lady", who was locked up by the former junta for most of the past 22 years.
Suu Kyi struck a conciliatory tone towards the other political parties as she prepares to take her place in a parliament that will remain dominated by the military and its political allies.
"We hope that all parties that took part in the elections will be in a position to cooperate with us in order to create a genuinely democratic atmosphere in our nation," she said.
State media said the NLD had won 40 of the 44 seats it contested, according to partial official results. In total, 45 seats were available. The results for the remaining five have not yet been officially announced.
The NLD said that its own tally showed it had taken at least 43 seats.
As a lawmaker and opposition leader in parliament, Suu Kyi will have an unprecedented voice in the legislative process, and her party is also already looking ahead to the next general election, in 2015.
"Obviously they want to win the next election comprehensively and be able to set up a government in their own right," said Trevor Wilson, a Myanmar expert at the Australian National University.
Observers say the government that took power a year ago needs Suu Kyi to take a place in parliament to bolster the legitimacy of its political system and spur an easing of Western sanctions.
A European Union spokeswoman in Brussels said the bloc was expected to send a "positive signal" to Myanmar when it reviews sanctions this month.
As part of moves to modernise an economy left in disarray by decades of military rule and encourage more foreign investment, Myanmar on Monday moved to revamp its dysfunctional exchange-rate system.
The central bank set a reference rate of 818 kyat to the dollar under its new managed floating exchange rate system, bringing the official rate roughly in line with its value on the black market, where it is widely traded.
Previously the official government rate -- which was widely ignored -- was pegged at around just six kyat to the dollar.
The Myanmar government has surprised even its critics over the past year with a string of reforms such as releasing hundreds of political prisoners, but ethnic conflict and alleged rights abuses remain concerns for the West.
Unlike in 2010 general elections, the government allowed foreign observers and journalists to witness Sunday's polls, which were to replace MPs who gave up their seats to join the government.
In the run-up to the eagerly awaited vote, the NLD decried alleged intimidation of candidates and other irregularities, and the party also complained about some problems with ballot sheets on Sunday.
The 2010 poll, won by the military's political proxies, was plagued by complaints of cheating and the exclusion of Suu Kyi, who was released from seven straight years of house arrest shortly afterwards.
Myanmar Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin told his counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at a meeting in Phnom Penh that the vote had gone "smoothly", diplomats said.
The NLD swept to a landslide election victory in 1990, when Suu Kyi was in detention, but the junta never recognised the result.