Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has been elected to the country's parliament in landmark by-elections, according to her National League for Democracy (NLD).

A senior party member, speaking shortly after polls closed on Sunday, said that Suu Kyi, who spent years as a political prisoner, had secured more than 80 per cent of votes in the constituency of Kawhmu, south of Yangon.

A total of 17 parties are competing in by-election, with four main contenders for the 45 seats on offer
  National League for Democracy: The NLD was founded in 1988 by Aung San Suu Kyi after a popular uprising against military rule
  Union Solidarity and Development Party: The USDP won about 80 per cent of the seats available in 2010, and is backed by the military
  National Democratic Force: The NDF is made up of breakaway NLD leaders, who opposed Suu Kyi's decision not to run in 2010
  Shan Nationalities Democratic Party: The SNDP represents Myanmar's second-largest ethnic group, and had a strong showing in 2010


The announcement prompted cheers and celebrations from crowds of NLD supporters, although official results are not expected for days.

"Reports are coming through that Suu Kyi has won the polls in Kawhmu, a very poor, rural part of Myanmar ... That is a place where she spent the night on Saturday night, with the locals out there. She has been out there campaigning a couple of times, where she has received an incredible response," said Al Jazeera's Wayne Hay, reporting from Yangon.

Sunday's vote is seen as a key test of the military-backed civilian government's commitment to recent democratic reforms.

Hay said that provisional results from further north, an area near the city of Mandalay, where there were 10 seats up for grabs also suggested that NLD was ahead in eight of those seats.

More than six million people were eligible to vote on Sunday, with a total of 160 candidates from 17 parties, including six new to the political stage, contesting for 45 parliamentary seats.

The number of seats at stake is not enough to threaten the military-backed ruling party's overwhelming majority, secured in full elections in 2010.

Suu Kyi's apparent victory had been widely expected, despite complaints by the NLD over alleged voting irregularities and campaign intimidation.

She said she did not regret standing for parliament because the polls had boosted people's interest in politics after decades of outright military rule ended last year.

The government for the first time invited teams of foreign observers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations [ASEAN], European Union and the US, and journalists to witness the elections.

Political reforms

Since taking office a year ago, President Thein Sein has carried out reforms including releasing hundreds of political prisoners, easing media restrictions and welcoming the opposition back into mainstream politics.

Our correspondent, reporting earlier from Kawhmu, said: "There are international monitors on the ground, but they are not allowed inside the polling booths. They are certainly not allowed to oversee the counting when that starts later on Sunday."

"So, they are here to observe overall process, talk to voters about any irregularities that they might have seen," he said.

"What we are hearing is that some voters have complained that voting sheets have been tampered with. Some voters have complained that inside the polling stations some of the officials have been coercing voters into voting for a certain party.

"So, not the best of starts, but certainly something the National League for Democracy and Suu Kyi were expecting."

Nyan Win, a spokesman for the party, told the AFP news agency on Sunday that his party had submitted a letter of complaint to the country's election commission regarding alleged irregularities involving ballot papers that could potentially be invalidated without due cause.

The NLD won a landslide election victory in 1990 but the ruling military never allowed it to take office. The party also boycotted the 2010 polls that swept the army's political proxies to power and were marred by complaints of cheating and intimidation.

Suu Kyi, who spent most of the past 22 years as a political prisoner, described the vote as "a step towards step one in democracy", despite complaining on Friday that the polls were not "genuinely free and fair".

"What has been happening in this country is really beyond what is acceptable for a democratic election. Still, we are determined to go forward because we think that is what our people want," the Nobel peace laureate said.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies