1. ITV Report

Burma's historic election explained

Aung San Suu Kyi's party is on course for victory. Credit: Reuters

Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party is on course for a landslide victory in Burma's most democratic election for decades.

But why is this election significant? And what is at stake?

We explain.

  • Why is this election significant?
Votes are counted in Burma. Credit: Reuters

Burma was under military rule for nearly 50 years.

The military - led by Gen Ne Win - staged a coup in 1962, nationalising the economy, enforcing a single-party state and banning independent media.

This election is a key landmark in the country's long - and troubled - journey from military dictatorship to democracy.

  • Why is Aung San Suu Kyi an important figure in Burma's story?
Suu Kyi was under house arrest for more than a decade. Credit: Reuters

Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of Aung San, the revolutionary figure who helped deliver independence for Burma before he was assassinated in 1947.

Angry at the state of the country under military rule, she led a revolt against the country's military ruler, campaigning for democratic reform and starting the National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

Her efforts prompted the military to place her under house arrest in 1989. The NLD won national elections in 1990 but the military refused to hand over power.

Suu Kyi - a Nobel Peace Prize winner - was released in 1995 but was detained yet again in 2000.

She was still under house arrest for the main military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party's (USDP) victory in Burma's first elections in 20 years - widely said to be a sham by international observers.

Suu Kyi was finally released six days after the result in November 2010.

  • Who's going to win this election?

Suu Kyi’s opposition party looks set for a huge victory.

The NLD had won 70% of votes counted by midday, with final results due by Monday evening.

The acting chairman of the ruling USDP has conceded defeat, simply saying: "We lost."

U Htay Oo said the party accepted the result "without any reservations".

votes won by NLD by midday on Monday
  • Will Burma be fully democratic after the election?
A Burmese woman shows her inked finger after casting her vote. Credit: Reuters


While this is being touted as the freest election ever in the country's history, the constitution still dictates that unelected military officials are entitled to 25% of parliamentary seats.

The military is also guaranteed key ministerial posts - defence, interior and border security.

Critics are concerned over the military's potential ability to retake direct control of government, as well as its influence over the economy.

While welcoming the country's democratic progress, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the elections were "far from perfect".

"There remain important structural and systemic impediments to the realisation of full democratic and civilian government, including the reservation of a large number of unelected seats for the military," he said.

  • So will Aung San Suu Kyi become president?
Aung San Suu Kyi. Credit: Reuters

Again, the answer is no.

The constitution bans anyone with foreign children from holding the post.

Suu Kyi's two sons are British, as was her late husband.

However, the 70-year-old has promised to act as the country's leader if her party wins, saying she will be "above the president".

Essentially the new president will only be president in name - Suu Kyi will be the one calling the shots.

  • What has she said about her imminent victory?

"I think you all have the idea of the results," Suu Kyi said in a speech at NLD headquarters as the results started to come in.

She also warned supporters not to antagonise the defeated candidates.

"I want to remind you all that even candidates who didn't win have to accept the winners but it is important not to provoke the candidates who didn't win to make them feel bad."

  • Analysis
Suu Kyi's supporters celebrate as results pour in. Credit: Reuters

ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine said:

With a thumping mandate, Ms Suu Kyi will pressure the ruling military to ease their stranglehold on running the country.

Decades of brutal repression have made this one of the poorest countries in the world.

People desperately hope that Ms Suu Kyi’s evolution from prisoner to president, in all but name, will herald in a new era.

– John Irvine

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