Yangon, Myanmar - The party of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi declared that she had won a seat in Myanmar's Parliament on Sunday, an unofficial result that may herald a new era for the country as it moves toward democracy after decades of oppressive military rule.
If the result is confirmed, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, a global icon of democracy and a 1991 Nobel Peace laureate, will make the transition from dissident to lawmaker, joining a Parliament overwhelmingly controlled by the military-backed ruling party.
Outside her party headquarters in Yangon, hundreds of frenzied supporters cheered as tallies from polling stations, displayed on a large screen, lopsidedly favored Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi.
"I feel like I want to dance," said Khin Maung Myint, a 65-year-old painter in the crowd. "I'm so happy that they beat the military. We need a party that stands for the people."
But U Min Zaw, a goldsmith who also supports Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, said he realized that his vote on Sunday would go only so far — the dominance of the ruling party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, would remain intact.
"This is just a little step, just a little democracy," Mr. Min Zaw said. The National League for Democracy will have at best a small minority in Parliament, he said. But "the future is brighter than ever."
The elections have been described by foreign governments as a barometer of democratic development in a country that only 18 months ago was ruled by a military junta, one of Asia's most brutal dictatorships. Hundreds of foreign journalists and numerous teams of foreign observers were allowed into Myanmar, also called Burma, to witness the voting, a contrast to previous years when a hermetic military government tried to keep out prying eyes.
The European Union and the United States have said that the fairness of the outcome will be crucial in determining whether they lift economic sanctions against the country.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and other officials from her party complained of a litany of "irregularities" during the campaign, but the alleged infractions — defacing of posters and campaigning by government officials on behalf of the ruling party in contravention of Myanmar's Constitution — appeared minor compared with the harsh treatment of the opposition in years past.
The elections on Sunday was the first time in two decades that people in 45 districts across Myanmar had the chance to vote for the party of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi.
From a strictly numerical standpoint, the results will not affect the balance of power in Myanmar — fewer than 10 percent of the seats in Parliament were in play.
But voters on Sunday described it as a joyous day, another step toward democracy as the country undergoes radical changes under President Thein Sein, the former general who has led the country for the past year and is encouraging reconciliation with Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi.
In a neighborhood of crumbling buildings and trash-strewn streets, Daw Khin Maung Mya, 76, said she was filled with emotion after voting.
"I feel like crying when I talk about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi," she said after casting her vote. "It felt so good to vote for her party — only Daw Aung San Suu Kyi can save us from deep poverty."
Voters said they felt more free than in the past to express themselves, both in the voting booth and in public.
"We used to fear speaking with foreigners about democracy," Daw Kyi Kyi Tun, 50, a former schoolteacher, told a reporter after voting at a Yangon polling station. "Now we have courage."
Officials began tallying votes after the polls closed in the late afternoon, including in the constituency where Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was a candidate, an impoverished rural area south of Yangon, the country's main city. (Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi did not vote on Sunday; her party decided not to transfer her official residency to her constituency.)
Official results were not expected for days.
Voters appeared to relish what in established democracies has become a mundane process. They were careful to follow the procedures: showing their identity cards, ticking their choice on the ballot, folding the ballot and dropping it in the ballot box.
For many supporters of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi's party, it was the first time they had voted in 22 years. The party boycotted the general election in 2010, which was called by a military junta, the predecessor to the current government.
The last time the National League for Democracy was on the ballot, in 1990, it won a resounding victory. But the junta ignored the result and in subsequent years crushed the opposition.
Outside Myanmar, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest, is a symbol of moral fortitude in the face of oppression. Inside Myanmar, she is also a repository for the wide-ranging hopes of a long-suffering population.
With her entry into electoral politics, that role may change. Her party, which has been vague in its prescriptions for the country, will be forced to take specific stands in the country's two houses of Parliament, where the debates have been increasingly lively in recent months.
As a first step, the outcome of the elections will need to be officially confirmed.
On Sunday, U Nyan Win, the campaign manager for the National League for Democracy, said there had been about 50 irregularities filed by midday, The Associated Press reported. Mr. Nyan Win said that waxed ballot papers had made it difficult to mark votes and that some ballot cards lacked the seal of the Election Commission, which could render them invalid.