Myanmar's ruling party conceded defeat on Monday after preliminary election results showed that the opposition party led by democracy figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi is on track to win a landslide victory and form the country's first democratically elected government since the early 1960s.
"We lost," Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) acting chairman Htay Oo told Reuters a day after the Southeast Asian country's first free nationwide election in a quarter of a century.
By late afternoon on Monday, vendors outside the headquarters of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) in Yangon were selling red T-shirts emblazoned with her face and the words, "We won."
This was Myanmar's first general election since its long-ruling military ceded power to President Thein Sein's quasi-civilian government in 2011, ushering in a period of reform and opening up to foreign investment.
The country's election commission announced the results of Sunday's election as they trickled in, constituency by constituency. Suu Kyi's party won 49 of the first 54 seats declared for the lower house, where 330 seats were contested.
The NLD said its own tally of results posted at polling stations around the country showed that it was on track to win more than 70 percent of the seats being contested in parliament, above the two-thirds threshold it needs to form the government.
"They must accept the results, even though they don't want to," NLD spokesman Win Htein told Reuters, adding that in the populous central region, Suu Kyi's party looked set to take more than 90 percent of seats.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the NLD party headquarters, waving flags and cheering as results were announced and projected onto a screen hung from the building.
"I'm very happy about the result," said Hnin Si, 60, a trader in Yangon. "The people have suffered for 50 years. I believe Aung San Suu Kyi will make the country a better place."
The election was a landmark in Myanmar's unsteady journey to democracy from the military dictatorship that made the former Burma a pariah state for so long. Suu Kyi spent almost 15 years under house arrest following Myanmar's 1990 election, when the NLD won a landslide victory that was ignored by the junta. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and became one of the world's most famous political prisoners until her release in 2010.
But although the election appears to have dealt a decisive defeat to the USDP, the military still dominates many aspects of the government and it is not clear how easily it will share power with Suu Kyi. The junta-drafted constitution guarantees one-quarter of parliament's seats to unelected members of the military and allows the commander-in-chief to nominate the head of three powerful ministries: interior, defense, and border security. The charter also gives the armed forces the right to take over the government under certain circumstances, and the military maintains a grip on the economy through holding companies.
Because 75 percent of parliament must vote to amend the constitution, the military effectively holds a veto. This complicates matters for Aung San Suu Kyi because she is technically disqualified from becoming president. Under the constitution, anyone whose spouse or child is a foreign citizen is barred from the office of president or vice-president — a clause that was drafted with Aung San Suu Kyi in mind. She had two children with the late British historian Michael Aris.
Suu Kyi has said that she will be the power behind the new president, regardless of the constitution, which she has derided as "very silly."
Voting in the historic election was mostly trouble-free, despite religious tensions fanned by Buddhist nationalists whose actions intimidated Myanmar's Muslim minority in the run-up to the poll.
But the NLD cried foul on Monday over advance votes that could boost the chances of a senior member of the ruling party. The party said it was "illogical" that the USDP could win 90 percent of advance votes — made by those unable to vote on election day — in Lashio, a township in the east of the country with a large military presence.
The issue over advance votes taps painful memories of a previous election in 2010, which the NLD boycotted and the USDP won. The Brussels-based think tank International Crisis Group criticized a "massive manipulation" of the count in that election, particularly of advance votes.