YANGON - Supporters of the main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, led by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, have expressed confidence in a landslide victory as millions of voters, from first-time voters to the elderly, queued to cast their ballots on Sunday (Nov 8) in Myanmar's first genuinely multi-party election in a generation. Observers said the poll was peaceful - a landmark achievement in a country only recently emerged from decades of military rule.
However, the burning question remains whether the winning margin would be enough to claim the presidency.
"We're leading the race but we can't say for sure we'll win two-thirds of the seats in Parliament that would enable us to form an independent government without forming a coalition," Reuters quoted NLD senior official and spokesman Han Tha Myint as saying.
Ms Suu Kyi's supporters weren't waiting for official results before celebrating. A huge crowd dancing and singing in anticipation of an NLD victory jammed the road in front of the NLD office in Yangon soon after voting closed.
About 30 million people were eligible to vote and 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 the queue of voters at a polling booth in Yangon.
The NLD claimed a landslide win in the 1990 election. But the army ignored the result and Ms Suu Kyi spent most of the next 20 years under house arrest.
For many older people voting on Sunday, most had not voted 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 on a wheelchair, and then carried up the staircase to vote.
"Whatever happens after the election, 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 pinkie finger dipped in indelible ink, and was carried back down the stairs.
"It's a historic day, a celebration of democracy," said 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 election.
He told reporters 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 (Monday) every few hours, with final results announced in 7-9 days.
In Yangon, a city of more than 5 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 polls closed at 4pm as a thunderstorm cooled the city.
President Thein Sein, who on Friday night pledged that his government, and the army, would accept the results of the historic election, voted after midday in the capital Naypyitaw. The President is head of the ruling, military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
But at all levels, 25 per cent of seats are reserved for the military and because of a clause in the Constitution barring those with foreign family connections from the presidency, Ms Suu Kyi will not be able to take that office even if her party musters enough votes for an overall majority.
Ms Suu Kyi voted in the morning in Yangon.
Analysts expect the NLD to emerge as the single biggest party from the election, 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 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 weren't waiting for official results before celebrating.
A huge crowd dancing and singing in anticipation of an NLD victory jammed the road in front of the NLD office in Yangon soon after voting closed.