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Myanmar Election Delivers Another Decisive Win for Aung San Suu Kyi

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The political party led by Myanmar’s civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, is poised to stay in power after winning what is only the second truly contested election the country has held in decades, though one in which many voters from ethnic minority groups were prevented from casting their ballots.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, captured at least 397 parliamentary seats out of 476, according to official results released on Wednesday. That is even better than its landslide victory in 2015, when the party began a power-sharing arrangement with Myanmar’s military, which had ruled the country for about 50 years. The national election commission still has the results of about a dozen more races to tally, but it deemed the polls free and fair.

“We have already secured the seats needed to form a government,” said U Myo Nyunt, a spokesman for the National League for Democracy. “Our victory is because people trust us.”

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who spent 15 years under house arrest before becoming Myanmar’s de facto civilian leader five years ago, has seen her global reputation stained by her support of the very generals who once locked her up. Last year at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, she defended the military against accusations that it had committed genocide against the country’s Rohingya Muslim population.

But Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s popularity has endured in a country where she is beloved both as an embodiment of democratic resistance and as the daughter of the army general who helped birth the nation’s independence from Britain. Many among the nation’s ethnic Bamar majority see Western criticism of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi as a betrayal, and they see her as a bulwark against a possible return to military rule. For many people at the polls on Sunday, a vote for the National League for Democracy was the same as a vote for her.

ImageVoting in Yangon on Sunday. Polls were canceled in some ethnic-minority areas.
Credit…Sai Aung Main/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Last month, the Union Election Commission, which is not independent of the governing party, canceled the vote in battle zones where insurgents from ethnic minority groups were fighting the military for autonomy. These areas were precisely where unhappiness with the National League for Democracy has been strongest, leading to speculation that the mass disenfranchisement was a tactic to ensure the party’s victory. (Rohingya Muslims were also not given the right to vote.)

On Tuesday, the military-linked Union Solidarity and Development Party rejected the emerging results, urging that a fresh election be held with the military acting as observers.

Although dozens of parties representing ethnic minority groups competed in the elections on Sunday, the National League for Democracy won the majority of parliamentary seats in nearly all ethnic-minority areas.

“Some people say that only ethnic parties can work for ethnic people, but that’s not true,” said Mr. Myo Nyunt, the party spokesman. “If there is no real democracy, no one can do things for ethnic people.”

One candidate who defeated her National League for Democracy opponent was Maw Moe Myar, a 27-year-old from the ethnic Kayah State Democratic Party.

“I don’t like the fact that the N.L.D. thinks they are the only party that can do better for our country,” said Ms. Moe Myar, who ran a bare-bones campaign in which she trekked by foot to distant villages through heavy rain. “They only promote themselves. They don’t care about the ethnic people.”

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government has arrested human rights defenders during its five years in power, just as the military junta once imprisoned members of the National League for Democracy for their political activism.

Credit…Myanmar State Counselor Office/EPA, via Shutterstock

U Sithu Maung was one of just two Muslims fielded by the National League for Democracy in Sunday’s elections. Both candidates won their races, despite simmering anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar. A student activist who was imprisoned by the military dictatorship for more than four years, Mr. Sithu Maung, 33, is among a new crop of young candidates for the party.

But even he paid respects to his political elders in the National League for Democracy, many of whom spent more time in prison than he did.

“The N.L.D. has retained support because of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” he said. “Joe Biden is also over 70 years old, but Americans selected him. Myanmar people know who is best for our country.”

Hannah Beech reported from Bangkok and Saw Nang from Yangon, Myanmar.

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