Suu Kyi's party sweeps landmark Myanmar polls

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Aung San Suu Kyi hailed a "new era" for Myanmar after her victory

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi addresses journalists in Yangon on April 2. Suu Kyi's party won 43 of the 44 seats it contested in parliamentary elections, according to official results announced by state television

Democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi's party won almost all the seats it contested in Myanmar elections, becoming the main opposition force in the national parliament, official results showed Tuesday.

The veteran dissident's National League for Democracy stormed to victory in 43 of the 44 constituencies where it fielded candidates in Sunday's polls, according to an election commission announcement on state television.

The landslide win in the by-elections gave Suu Kyi her first-ever seat in parliament, although it will not threaten the comfortable majority of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

The Nobel laureate said in her victory speech on Monday that she hoped the vote would mark a "new era" for the nation after decades of repressive junta rule, but appealed for political unity and urged her supporters not to gloat.

The NLD won 37 seats in the 440-seat lower house, along with four in the upper house and two in the regional chambers, the results showed.

One quarter of the seats are reserved for unelected military officials.

The NLD lost one seat in eastern Shan state to the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, which has strong support among ethnic minorities.

The USDP took just one seat, in a constituency in northwest Sagaing where the NLD candidate was disqualified from standing.

Suu Kyi's election to political office marks the latest sweeping change in the country formerly known as Burma after decades of outright military rule ended last year.

Myanmar's quasi-civilian government has surprised even its critics over the past year with a string of reforms such as releasing hundreds of political prisoners and welcoming the opposition back into mainstream politics.

President Thein Sein hailed the polls as a success.

"The election was held successfully," the former general said in brief remarks to reporters on the sidelines of a meeting with fellow leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Phnom Penh.

Observers say the regime needs Suu Kyi in parliament to bolster the legitimacy of its political system and spur an easing of Western sanctions.

The European Union opened a debate Tuesday on how fast to lift sanctions, with a senior EU diplomat telling AFP that the bloc was leaning towards "a substantial lifting of sanctions with some red lines".

The United States indicated it planned further reconciliation gestures with Myanmar in the near future.

"We are prepared to match positive steps of reform in Burma with steps of our own," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters, declining to specify what the measures would be.

The ASEAN leaders called for all Western sanctions against Myanmar to be lifted in light of the vote.

"The lifting of sanctions would contribute positively to the democratic process and especially economic development of Myanmar," a top Cambodian official told reporters, quoting leaders inside the meeting room.

At the last ASEAN summit in November, Myanmar was rewarded for its reforms by being promised the bloc's chairmanship in 2014. It is also eager to win greater foreign investment with the prospect of sanctions being lifted.

Unlike in the 2010 general elections, the Myanmar government allowed foreign observers and journalists to witness Sunday's polls, which were to replace lawmakers who gave up their seats to join the government.

The 2010 vote, won by the military's political proxies, was plagued by complaints of cheating and the exclusion of Suu Kyi, who was released from seven straight years of house arrest shortly afterwards.

The NLD swept to a landslide election victory in 1990, when Suu Kyi was in detention, but the junta never recognised the result.