Myanmar voters yearn to send Suu Kyi to parliament

TODD PITMAN Associated Press Published:

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was poised to win her first elected office in a landmark election Sunday in Myanmar that drew crowds of voters determined to send the country's most famous ex-political prisoner to parliament.

A victory for Suu Kyi would mark a new era in her 24-year political career, which was spent mostly under house arrest, and for Myanmar as the government seeks legitimacy and a lifting of Western sanctions while emerging from a half-century of oppressive and hermetic military rule.

Sunday's by-election was called to fill just 45 vacant seats in Myanmar's 664-seat national Parliament and will not change the balance of power in a new government that is nominally civilian but still heavily controlled by retired generals. Suu Kyi and other opposition candidates would have almost no say even if they win all the seats they are contesting.

But Suu Kyi's candidacy has resurrected hope among Myanmar's downtrodden masses. If the 66-year-old Nobel peace laureate takes office as expected it would symbolize a giant leap toward national reconciliation.

"She may not be able to do anything at this stage," said one voter, Go Khehtay, who cast his ballot for Suu Kyi at Wah Thin Kha, one of the dirt-poor villages in the rural constituency south of Yangon that she is vying to represent.

"But one day, I believe she'll be able to bring real change."

Her party, National League for Democracy, which had party volunteers closely monitoring the polling, displayed preliminary results on a digital signboard of its headquarters in Myanmar's main city of Yangon.

The results said Suu Kyi was ahead with 65 percent of the vote in 82 of her constituency's 129 polling stations. The statistics were not official and the election commission has yet to release any outcome of Sunday's by-election.