RANGOON—Burmese editors might be tempted to use an belated April Fools’ Day headline to capture the atmosphere of euphoria sweeping the nation—“Burma Wins World Cup!”
In this football-mad country, that is probably the only event that could match the level of excitement seen in the streets after the stunning performance of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Sunday’s by-elections.
The crowds that gathered at the NLD’s headquarters as the results rolled in last night were more than festive—they were basking in a moment they would remember for the rest of their lives.
Some were reliving the jubilation of the 1990 election, which the NLD also carried by a landslide. Many others were obviously far too young to have any memory of those heady days, but knew what happened next—a brutal crackdown on the opposition and two more decades of military rule.
If there was any fear the same could happen again, nobody was showing it.
For a party that had been written off in the past as no longer relevant, Sunday’s results were a major vindication. As one man commented while watching the street celebrations from his car, “Now the world will know who is who, and what is what.”
Several of the party’s strengths were on full display outside its headquarters on Shwegondine Road in the former capital Rangoon as supporters poured in their hundreds.
As vehicles, including local public buses, continued to ply their way in both directions through the a mass of cheering fans, the party’s impromptu crowd control efforts kept everyone out of harm’s way and traffic flowing fairly smoothly.
There were no signs of heavy-handedness or flaring tempers. It was, to borrow a favorite phrase of Burma’s military-backed government, disciplined democracy in action.
The party also showed that its appeal still spans a wide cross-section of Burmese society. Everyone from elderly street vendors to teenagers wielding iPhones was there to cheer as results for individual constituencies were posted on an electronic board above the NLD’s cramped main office.
Particularly striking, though, was the presence of so many young people. In a country demographically still very youthful, this bodes well for the NLD as it spends the next three years preparing for general elections in 2015, when it will make a bid to become Burma’s ruling party.
Last night, however, party strategy was probably far from anybody’s mind. As fists pumped to a hip-hop pro-democracy anthem, the only message that mattered was this—the NLD already rules.