In a nation blighted by strife, rights abuses and curbs on free speech, for one day millions dared to hope for change.
Yangon, Myanmar – Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party is claiming gains in Myanmar’s parliamentary election, with supporters already celebrating an anticipated landslide victory.
At least 2,000 people braved the afternoon downpour on Monday in the commercial capital, Yangon, as they awaited the announcement of the results and a possible speech by the democracy icon.
Supporters waved the red flag of the Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party while singing along the campaign theme song, shouting “NLD, we will win.”
They also cheered when the election commission announced wins for NLD candidates in a news conference, which played live on a widescreen TV.
As the rain ended just before sunset, the size of the crowd built up once again well into late Monday night.
“I’m very excited. NLD won in my township of Kyi Myin Dine,” said Daw Khin Myo Sett, 39, who voted for the first time.
“I hope that they will improve education as well as healthcare and give my children a better life.”
The country’s first openly contested election in decades saw an estimated 80 percent voter turnout.
The NLD had won about 70 percent of the votes counted by midday Monday, party spokesman Win Htein said.
The nation breathed a collective sigh of relief as polling closed on Sunday, with no major incidents of violence or voter irregularity reported.
The opposition NLD party, however, filed an official complaint before the election commission about violations of voting regulations.
The chairman of the election commission, U Tin Aye, said 48 cases of irregularities had been registered, including allegations of errors in the voter list and flaws in advance voting.
Suu Kyi called for the country to remain “calm, peaceful and stable” as it awaits the outcome of the election.
“There is no official result yet. But the people already know who has won,” she told her supporters outside the NLD headquarters on Monday morning.
“It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, but your dignity is important. The winner should show empathy to the losers.”
The election commission said it would announce the poll results at 6pm local time (11:30 GMT).
There were indications of a strong victory for the opposition, with senior ruling party candidates losing their parliamentary seats, including Shwe Mann, the lower house speaker.
On Monday morning, Shwe Mann posted a statement on his official Facebook page congratulating his opponent, U Than Nyunt of the NLD.
Before the election, Shwe Mann was one of the candidates tipped to become a presidential nominee.
Htay Oo, a cochairman of the ruling party and former agriculture minister, also lost his seat to an NLD candidate in the state of Ayeyarwady.
The USDP reportedly won in districts in the northern Kachin and Shan states, as well as in Meiktila township, which is heavily populated by the military.
A government newspaper on Monday hailed the election as the “dawn of a new era”.
Min Aung Hlaing, a senior general, was also quoted as saying that there is “no reason not to accept” the election results.
The military government handed power to a semi-civilian government in 2011, but the army still dominates politics after decades in power.
Twenty-five percent of seats in parliament will be reserved for the army.
Even with a win for her party, Suu Kyi cannot become president, according to the country’s constitution, as she married a UK citizen and her children have UK passports.
Sunday’s poll was the first openly contested in Myanmar in 25 years.
However, voting did not take place in hundreds of villages following fighting between armed ethnic armies and government soldiers.
And about 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims, considered illegal immigrants by the government, were not allowed to vote.
Maung Win, a Muslim in Yangon, said he voted for the NLD.
“I think that Aung San Suu Kyi will not only be good to the Muslim community, but also the country as a whole,” he told Al Jazeera.
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|Aung San Suu Kyi has been campaigning for reform since she was released from house arrest in 2010 [Ted Regencia/Al Jazeera]|