[YANGON] Supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi's pro-democracy party on Monday cheered in growing excitement as early results from Myanmar's historic election boosted hopes of sweeping gains to carry it to power after decades of military dominance.
Election authorities have so far released only a small fraction of the results, but of the 36 announced the National League for Democracy has scooped 35, in a psychological boost to crowds of Suu Kyi supporters gathered in front of her party headquarters in Yangon Monday evening.
"We'll win tonight, we'll stay until we win anyway," said 24-year-old Wanna Htay, sporting a Scarlett bandana with the party's iconic fighting peacock motif as the crowd sung and cheered around him.
Earlier, party spokesman Win Htein told AFP that unofficial tallies showed the opposition was "on track to win more than 70 per cent of seats around the country".
He did not specify if the percentage would translate into power under Myanmar's complex political system.
Sunday's elections saw millions line up to cast their ballots in what many hope will mark a dramatic leap towards democracy in the Southeast Asian nation, which withered under the iron grip of junta rule for decades.
The NLD, which holds a tiny proportion of seats clinched in 2012 by-elections, is shooting for 67 per cent of elected seats in the national legislature to be able to select a president and form a government.
That would be enough to overwhelm the USDP and their military allies - who are gifted 25 per cent of seats by a constitution scripted to ensure they still have a major stake in the future.
The army-backed USDP, or Union Solidarity and Development Party, said it was ready for a wipeout in the commercial capital Yangon, while several of its heavyweights - including its chairman - lost their seats.
But the NLD shied away from an outright declaration of victory, with election authorities expected to release results in several waves deep into Monday night.
Suu Kyi, who is still barred from the presidency under the army-drafted constitution, remained cautious, but hinted at victory.
"It is not the time to congratulate our candidates who we think have won the election," she told supporters and journalists from the balcony of her party's Yangon headquarters.
But "people have an idea of the result even if I don't say it," she added.
Election authorities have said that preliminary figures would be released within 48 hours of Sunday's vote, and a full nationwide count could take 10 days or more.
In its Yangon stronghold, the NLD took 12 lower-house seats and 23 more for the regional parliament.
The USDP, appearing increasingly beleaguered, has taken just one Yangon regional parliament seat so far.
Early NLD victories include a win for Naing Ngan Linn, who was injured in a dramatic sword attack while out canvassing on October 29 in Tharketa township on the city's fringes.
The sitting MP was hospitalised with deep gashes to his arms and face after the attack, apparently by a drunken local gang, in what the party described as the worst incident of violence during its campaign.
But he was back on the campaign trail just a few days later.
Even the state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar declared the "dawn of a new era", while USDP heavyweight Shwe Mann conceded on his Facebook page that he had lost his seat to his NLD challenger.
The junta nominally gave up power in 2011, and the country has since spun through rapid change, with the quasi-civilian USDP government launching reforms that brought the end of most international sanctions.
But the USDP was braced for major losses and some local media called on President Thein Sein to concede without delay.
Party chairman Htay Oo told local media that he had lost his seat in Hinthada, a few hours from Yangon.
Sunday's vote saw enthusiasm for democracy soaring among the 30 million registered voters, many of whom began queuing before dawn to cast their ballot.
Among them were many first-time voters, while others had last voted a quarter of a century ago only to see their hopes crushed by the military when it ignored the results, an outcome they fervently hope will not be repeated this time around.
Election officials estimated an 80 per cent turnout, a figure observers say will aid the NLD's quest for a majority.
President Thein Sein and the still-powerful army chief have both vowed to respect the outcome of the election - even if the USDP loses its choke-hold on power.