Voting peaceful in landmark Myanmar polls

National League for Democracy supporters singing in anticipation of victory outside the party's headquarters in Yangon yesterday.
National League for Democracy supporters singing in anticipation of victory outside the party's headquarters in Yangon yesterday.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Official results from today, with final tally in about a week

From first-time voters to the elderly, millions queued to cast their ballots yesterday in Myanmar's first genuinely multi-party election in a generation. Observers said the polls were peaceful - a landmark achievement in a country that only recently emerged from decades of military rule.

About 30 million people were eligible to vote and the turnout was about 80 per cent, Election Commission officials said.

"I have come to take back what was stolen from me 25 years ago," shouted a woman from a queue of voters at a polling booth in Yangon.

The main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party led by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi claimed a landslide win in the 1990 elections. But the army ignored the result and Ms Suu Kyi spent most of the next 20 years under house arrest.

For the older folk voting yesterday, most had not cast their ballots more than thrice in their lifetimes.

In the leafy compound of a monastery in Yangon, Daw Myint Myint, 92, was lifted out of her car, placed in a wheelchair, and then carried up the stairs to vote.

"Whatever happens after the elections, whoever wins, if it is good for the country, we will welcome it," her daughter told The Straits Times as Daw Myint Myint cast her vote, had her little finger dipped in indelible ink, and was carried back down the stairs.

"It's a historic day, a celebration of democracy," said Mr Alexander Lambsdorff, vice-president of the European Parliament and head of the European Union's observer team - the biggest of the foreign teams watching the elections.

He told reporters that there had been no reports of unrest or violence. He also praised the transparency of the vote, in which more than 11,000 international and domestic observers were accredited across 40,000 polling stations.

The Union Election Commission is set to announce official results from this morning every few hours, with the final results announced in seven to nine days.

In Yangon, a city of more than five million, polling stations, mostly in schools and monasteries, saw long lines forming, in some cases well before the 6am opening time.

Voters came in a steady trickle through the morning, tapering off in the midday heat and then picking up again in the afternoon before the polls closed at 4pm.

President Thein Sein, who last Friday night pledged that his government and the army would accept the results of the historic elections, voted after midday in the capital, Naypyitaw. The President is head of the ruling, military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party. Ms Suu Kyi voted in the morning in Yangon.

Analysts expect the NLD to emerge as the single biggest party from the elections, in which a total of 6,038 candidates from 91 political parties, plus 310 independents, competed for 498 seats in the 664-seat Parliament - as well as for hundreds of seats in regional assemblies. But at all levels, 25 per cent of seats are reserved for the military.

The NLD is aiming for at least 67 per cent of the 498 seats - which would give it an overall majority in Parliament. If it falls short, it would have to bargain with others, most probably ethnic minority parties.

Ms Suu Kyi's supporters did not wait for the official results before celebrating. A huge crowd dancing and singing in anticipation of an NLD victory packed the road in front of the NLD office in Yangon soon after voting closed.

National League for Democracy supporters singing in anticipation of victory outside the party's headquarters in Yangon yesterday.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2015, with the headline 'Voting peaceful in landmark Myanmar polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe