At party headquarters, it was the party to end all parties. For too long, the bumpy, betel-stained strip of pavement in front of the Rangoon office of the National League for Democracy (NLD), Burma’s opposition party, felt like a no-go zone. Burmese would walk quickly past, averting their gaze from the celllike confines of the political office within, where diehard supporters of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi persevered in their unlikely campaign to bring democracy to one of the world’s most oppressed nations. Across the street, at an outdoor tea shop, agents from the regime’s much feared Special Branch — with their trademark white oxford shirts, dark sarongs and sunglasses — stalked with telephoto lenses those who dared to enter the NLD headquarters.
But on April 1, after a milestone by-election that marked only Burma’s third poll in half a century, the pavement in front of NLD, as well as the normally busy road in front, was teeming with hundreds of party supporters to celebrate what the opposition was calling a landslide victory.