Aung San Suu Kyi Wins Myanmar Parliament Seat

Former political prisoner and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in Myanmar's parliament Sunday. Suu Kyi spent years under house arrest by the military.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

One of the world's most famous political dissidents has won an important political victory. Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate who faced nearly 15 years of house arrest, led her opposition party to a big win yesterday in a special parliamentary vote in the nation of Myanmar, which is also known as Burma. The question now is whether this marks a significant step towards democracy for a nation that has had years of military dictatorship. NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us from the main city in Myanmar, Yangon, where he's been covering this vote. Anthony, good morning.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: How decisive was this victory in terms of numbers?

KUHN: Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the opposition National League for Democracy, is claiming - or projecting, based on initial tallies - that they swept 43 out of 44 constituencies up for grabs in the parliament. Now, that's only 44 seats out of about 600, or 7 percent, so that's not a lot. But remember that the National League for Democracy has not participated in an election since 1990. They boycotted the last elections in 2010. But 43 out of four is very good for them. And a particular victory was that they swept Naypyidaw, which is the capital where much of the people living are civil servants. They work for the government, and yet they voted for the opposition party. And Suu Kyi came out and told her supporters this morning don't gloat. Be graceful winners.

GREENE: You mentioned, you know, the party hasn't taken part in elections. Aung San Suu Kyi certainly hasn't because she's been under house arrest for so many years by the military dictatorship. I mean, how important is her victory? I mean, could this mean that Myanmar really opens up and that the West might end sanctions, or is that going too far?

KUHN: Well, a lot of foreign governments were looking to this election to see whether it would be free and fair and they could move towards normalizing relations and lifting sanctions. Chances are that this will push a lot of foreign governments in that direction. Secretary of State Clinton greeted the news fairly cautiously. Everybody knows that the political reforms are still reversible, but it's likely that this will lead to the lifting of sanctions. And what it could open the way for, of course, is a wholesale shift in 2015, when the next general elections are, and it's entirely possible that the NLD could win an outright majority. They could sweep those elections.

GREENE: Anthony, it was Aung San Suu Kyi herself who was suggesting that this vote was not fair. So I wonder if her victory and all the results are actually going to stand, or if they'll be challenged.

KUHN: Well, she did say on Friday, David, that there were widespread irregularities in the run-up to the vote: manipulation of voter registration lists, harassment of some of her candidates. But she believes the people wanted the election, and she has an agenda of national reconciliation and promoting the rule of law that she wants to move ahead with. So she and the other victorious NLD candidates do plan to take their seats in parliament.

GREENE: Anthony, thanks very much.

KUHN: Thank you, David.

GREENE: That was NPR's Anthony Kuhn, reporting from Yangon, Myanmar.

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