Purple fingers, poll cards mark change for Myanmar voters

Myanmar men display their inked fingers after voting at a polling centre in Yangon on Nov 8, 2015.
Myanmar men display their inked fingers after voting at a polling centre in Yangon on Nov 8, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

Yangon (AFP) - All through the day voters emerged onto Myanmar's streets, patiently waiting under a tropical sun in snaking queues.

Among them supporters of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's pro-democracy party hope their mark on the ballot will overhaul a country cramped for decades by ulcerous junta rule.

Some smiled, others wore a more determined look as they voted in an election many have craved for a generation but almost dared not believe would happen.

"We want the system to change," said Mr Khin Myint Myint, 65, a retired university teacher, polling card in hand as he waited to vote in the wealthy Yangon township of Bahan.

Satisfaction radiated from those who emerged from the polling stations, the purple tips of their little fingers raised in triumph after being inked to indicate they had voted.

"I'm very happy. Can I say who I voted for? Of course it was the NLD," Ms Swe Swe, a beaming 69-year-old housewife, told AFP, who like many in Myanmar was sporting an elegant longyi.

She was referring to Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), who are expected to make major gains if the vote is free and fair.

The early queues, which were seen across the country - from the mountainous north to the flat southern delta - pointed to a strong turnout, something observers say will likely benefit the NLD as it hunts a decisive poll victory.

It needs to take just over two thirds of the contested seats to win a clear majority.

The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) needs just a third for a possible tie-up with the army, which already has a quarter of all seats guaranteed under the constitution.

Fears of election day chaos in a country which last held a fully contested poll 25 years ago appeared not to have played out - at least in Yangon.

Yet euphoria among pro-democracy supporters has been tempered by caution over the days ahead in a country where the military has repeatedly turned to the gun to muzzle democratic aspirations.

"The NLD can change the country, I hope the president accepts the results of the election" if they win, a university student who only gave her name as Gloria, 24, told AFP.

President Thein Sein has said his USDP party would accept the outcome of the vote as did powerful army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Many voters who have not registered in time are also likely to be disappointed, particularly in constituencies home to large numbers of migrant workers.

For some of Myanmar's citizens, the day held little joy.

Hundreds of thousands of minority Rohingya Muslims in febrile Rakhine state have been excluded from the poll - in an apparent sop by the government to hardline Buddhist nationalists who say they are not citizens.

Voting has also been cancelled in multiple regions where conflict still rages between ethnic minority rebels and the military.

Several unverified photos on social media showed voters - apparently from ethnic groups - with sliced little fingers, a protest at not being able to vote.

In Rakhine, Ms Amina Khaton, 48, was one of the few Muslims allowed to cast a ballot - she belongs to the Kaman minority that has not been disenfranchised.

At a polling station near state capital Sittwe, many Kaman like her appeared to back the NLD as the best option to return them to their homes after religious violence sent them fleeing into displacement camps.

"We hope we can be able to go back home if Daw Suu wins," she said.