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Myanmar's Opposition Party Headed For Victory In Parliamentary Elections

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Myanmar, also known as Burma, went to the polls on Sunday. And indications so far are that the opposition party has won an overwhelming victory. These elections are widely viewed as the first genuinely free vote after decades of military rule. NPR's Anthony Kuhn is in the former capital city, Yangon. It's the largest city in Burma. He's on the street outside the opposition party headquarters. Anthony, what is it like where you are?

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Well, right now, Linda, the opposition is ticking off the names of opposition members of Parliament - people who're running for seats in Parliament - that have won. And every time they read off a name, a cheer goes up from the crowd. Sunday night people started gathering outside these headquarters and celebrating even though no votes had come in. The anticipation is just so huge. After half a century of military rule, before that more than a century of British colonial rule, people have been waiting a long time for a real chance to choose their own leaders. And they believe this is it.

WERTHEIMER: Aung San Suu Kyi is the leader of the opposition. And since they appear to be headed for a victory, Parliament elects the president. Normally, you would expect she would be elected, but she's barred by the constitution from taking the job. How did that happen?

KUHN: Well, it's a technicality in their constitution. The constitution says that anyone who has foreign nationals as spouses or children cannot be president. And many people believe that was custom designed to fit Suu Kyi because her husband - her late husband - was British and so are her two sons. So she has said that she is going to end run this system. She can't be president but if her party wins the vote and she has a popular mandate she will call the shots. She will make the political decisions and her party will install someone to be president. So basically she may not be able to change the - the system that was set up by the country's former military rulers, but she's going to do it the best she can.

WERTHEIMER: What do you suppose the new government will look like?

KUHN: Well, this election is not expected to change the fundamental structure. And the fundamental structure was designed by the military. And it ensures that they have a major say in politics, including 25 percent of the lawmakers in Parliament. So there's going to be some combination of ruling party, opposition, ethnic parties and military. And we're going into a post-election period that is very politically uncertain. It'll take about two months at least to form a new government, and this is going to happen behind closed doors. The president has said that all parties have got to respect the election results, but that didn't happen in 1990, when Aung San Suu Kyi and her party won but the government refused to stand aside.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Anthony Kuhn, speaking to us from Yangon in Myanmar. Thank you very much.

KUHN: You're welcome, Linda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.