RANGOON, BURMA — The jubilant celebration of Burma’s pro-democracy party quieted Tuesday as the process of tallying votes ground on, slowly revealing what both sides already know — that Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy appears headed for a big win following historic elections held Sunday.
Suu Kyi, 70, remained behind closed doors with her advisers at her lakeside villa, the dwelling where she spent 15 years under house arrest ordered by a military junta. In an interview with the BBC, she predicted that her party would win 75 percent of the seats in the legislature, more than enough to govern on its own.
Asked whether she thought the election was free and fair, Suu Kyi replied: “Fair, no. Largely free.” But she noted that voters faced intimidation in some areas of the country.
Observer teams from the European Union and the Carter Center issued generally positive reports about the conduct of the election, the most-watched in Burma’s history, with more than 10,000 monitors. But in a country where religious tension, repression and armed ethnic conflict remain prevalent, the monitors reiterated concerns about the exclusion of minorities and others from the balloting.
At a news conference, Jason Carter, a grandson of the center’s founder, former president Jimmy Carter, said that although Burma’s transition to democracy was “incomplete and ongoing,” the election had gone relatively well.
However, Carter said observers were not able to monitor advance voting, which allows military members, out-of-station workers, pregnant women or those who are ill to cast early votes.
“One of the great concerns is that there is no transparency in the actual casting of [advance] ballots,” Carter said. “How big that vote is — at this point, we don’t know.”
Human Rights Watch said this week that it is investigating reports that thousands of advance votes from soldiers were delivered at midnight to constituencies in Shan, Kachin and Kayin states. The group said these votes tipped the results in those areas toward the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
Burmese reporters at the election commission’s news briefing in the capital peppered officials with questions about the late-arriving ballots — queries that they would have been unable to put forward five years ago, before the repressive regime launched its democratic reforms.
Officials gave conflicting answers on the issue before Tin Aye, chairman of the election commission, grew exasperated and said, “There is no way they came in late.”
Meanwhile, one of Suu Kyi’s key advisers accused the government commission of dragging its feet in revealing the election outcome.
Win Htein, a member of the NLD’s executive committee, said Tuesday that the government is “not being straightforward and is delaying the results.”
Tallies released Tuesday showed that the NLD had won 78 out of the 88 seats in the lower house of parliament for which the election commission had final results and 29 in the upper house. The USDP had won five seats in the lower house and two in the upper house. Suu Kyi won her seat in parliament, the commission announced.
There are 664 seats between the two bodies, but 25 percent are reserved for the military and seven seats aren’t being contested because of ethnic violence.
The NLD’s concerns about delays raised the specter of the country’s previous democratic national election, in 1990, which the NLD won. Ultimately, the junta ignored those results.
But Suu Kyi said Tuesday in the BBC interview that she did not believe that would happen this time. “They have been saying repeatedly that they will respect the will of the people,” she said. Asked why Burma’s generals would honor the results in this situation, she answered, “Times are different. The people are different.”
Under a complex system set forth in Burma’s 2008 constitution, drawn up by the military government at the time, the president is chosen from among three candidates selected by an electoral college made up of three groups — two consisting of elected members of each house of the legislature and one comprising military representatives. The charter reserves a quarter of the seats in both houses for the military.
If one party wins an outright majority in the legislature, it presumably would be able to determine the president. If no party receives a majority, a governing coalition would need to be formed with members drawn from one or more of Burma’s 90-plus political parties, many representing ethnic minorities.
Suu Kyi has said she will become the next leader of Burma, also known as Myanmar, even if she is not allowed to become president because of a constitutional provision that excludes from the presidency any citizen with a foreign spouse or foreign children. Suu Kyi has two British sons from her late British husband, who died of cancer in Britain while the pro-democracy leader was under house arrest in Rangoon.
“That won’t stop me from making all the decisions as leader of the party,” Suu Kyi said. “I’ll make all the decisions even if I have to field [another] president.”
Thant Myint-U, a Burmese American author and scholar who is an adviser to President Thein Sein, said the weeks of dealmaking likely to follow the election are as important to the future of the country as the voting itself.
“Myanmar is not a democracy right now, and it’s not going to be a democracy in the near future,” he said. “The question now is whether all sides — NLD, USDP and the ethnic parties — are going to be able to come together and agree on what the shape of the next phase of political transition is going to look like.”
Daniela Deane in London contributed to this report.