Myanmar counting votes in landmark election

Myanmar awaits results of its first free national election in over two decades as Suu Kyi supporters feel confident about victory

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A polling officer holds up a vote for the National League for Democracy party (NLD) at a polling station in Mandalay during the general election in Myanmar, November 8, 2015.

Myanmar is counting the votes for its first free national election in 25 years, after polls closed with a 80 percent turnout on Sunday at 4pm local time (0930 GMT), as no acts of violence or major fraud was reported.

Supporters of the favoured National League for Democracy (NLD) have already started celebrations, due to initial results showing NLD leading across the country, although the results will not be clear for another 36 hours.

Early indications from diplomats and other observers is that the voting was largely free and fair.

"From the dozens of people we have spoken to since 6 am today, everybody feels they have been able to vote for whoever they wanted to in security and safety," said Durudee Sirichanya, an international observer with the Secretariat of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The fairness of the election was a matter of debate, after activists had estimated that almost 4 million people, mostly citizens living overseas, may not be allowed to cast a ballot.

The main opposition NLD had said a huge number of extra voting tickets were issued in some regions and also made allegations of vote-buying by the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in a village located in the Irrawaddy Delta.

The NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to win most of the votes, ending decades of military control in the country.

A supporter holds a portrait of NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi as they join a party campaign rally in Yangon, Myanmar, November 4, 2015.

But even if NLD succeeds, the Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi cannot become president, due to her foreign spouse and children, as it is barred in the army-scripted constitution.

Suu Kyi had earlier said she would be “above the president” if her party wins a landslide election.

The NLD leader had won the elections in 1990, the first multi-party elections since 1960s, but the military junta refused to hand over power.

In the 2010, only certain parties were allowed to join the election, as Suu Kyi was under house arrest until the elections were finalised and the NLD was declared illegal.

Many unexpected reforms were implemented in 2011, after the formation of a semi-civilian government, NLD was able to register as a political party in the 2012 by-elections, gaining 43 seats.

While many voters wonder how the powerful army will respond if the military-backed USDP loses, Myanmar’s commander-in-chief said after casting his vote that his troops would respect the voice of the electorate.

"Just as the winner accepts the result, so should the loser," Min Aung Hlaing told reporters, backing President Thein Sein’s earlier remarks that he would respect the election results.

There were roughly 30 million people that were eligible to vote on Sunday.

Muslims barred from voting

Among the almost 4 million people who were unable to vote, there are also 1 million Rohingya Muslims, who were barred from casting ballots. Muslim minorities have been forced to register their race as Indian or Pakistani to get their national registration cards, which are needed to vote and travel abroad, a British news-outlet reported a senior immigration official as saying.

A Rohingya Muslim woman who has a citizen card raises her inked finger towards camera after voting at a polling station in a refugee camp outside Sittwe, Myanmar, November 8, 2015.

The Rohingya Muslims, who are forced to live in camps on the outskirts of the western Rakhine state's capital of Sittwe, expressed anger, sadness and hopelessness at not being able to vote in the country's landmark election.

"I can see the Buddhist Rakhine, the Kaman Muslim and Hindus voting at a polling station close to the barricades," Abdul Melik, a 29-year-old member of the ethnic minority, told The Associated Press in a telephone conversation.

"We were hoping that somehow we'd be allowed to vote. But today I have lost hope of any change in my lifetime."

Currently, there are only 11 Muslim candidates waiting to be elected as MP, but none of them are members of any major political parties, including the opposition National League for Democracy.

Suu Kyi has been widely criticised for failing to speak up for the country's embattled Muslim population, especially the ethnic Rohingya, which she said should not be exaggerated when "our whole country is in a dramatic situation."

What next?

To win a majority, the NLD on its own or with allies must secure more than two-thirds of the contested seats. Even so, the military will keep holding significant power, as it reserves the right to appoint top ministerial positions, as well as having the right to take over the government under certain conditions.

On the other hand, the governing USDP would be secure with fewer seats, if it gains the support of the military bloc in parliament as expected.


TRTWorld and agencies