Booths packed as Myanmar votes in historic election

REF: Yangon, Myanmar – Voting is under way in Myanmar’s parliamentary election, the first openly contested poll in 25 years, which could determine if the military-backed ruling party will hold on to power, or lose to the opposition led by pro-democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi.

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Amid allegations of voting irregularities, around 30 million voters will cast their ballots on Sunday, and pick from among the 6,065 candidates to fill the two houses of the national parliament and regional assemblies.

Many started lining up at booths across Yangon well in advance of polls opening at 6am local time.

It took up to an hour for many to make it through the line and into the voting centres, with one EU observer telling Al Jazeera that voting was taking place in an “orderly” fashion at the Yangon polling station he visited.

No incidents of violence or unrest were reported across the country.

National League for Democracy party leader Aung San Suu Kyi was crushed by journalists as she arrived to vote in Yangon [Ted Regencia/Al Jazeera]

Suu Kyi was met by a huge scrum of journalists, who pushed for position as she arrived to cast her vote at a polling station in the Bahan township area of Yangon.

She did not talk to reporters or make any public statements.

Earlier, at the same polling booth, shipping boat captain Henry Khin Maung told Al Jazeera that he hoped Suu Kyi would lay the foundation for Myanmar to become an economic powerhouse like Singapore or Malaysia.

The election “is the beginning of a new era”, he said.

After a two-month campaign period, which saw the stripping of the right to vote of an estimated one million Rohingya Muslims, an attack on an opposition candidate, and deadly fighting in rebel-held areas in northern border states, a 24-hour break in electioneering was observed on Saturday ahead of the vote.


Myanmar Votes 2015: Voices from the heartland


Sunday’s election has been declared by the United Nations as a “watershed moment” in the country’s democratic transition, even as it urged the government of President Thein Sein “to ensure that respect for human rights is front and centre” in the run-up to the polls.

On Friday night, the president delivered a televised address urging eligible citizens to vote, while vowing that “the government and the army will respect the results” of the election. The statement followed allegations by Nobel laureate Suu Kyi, who told a packed news conference of incidents of voter fraud.

On Saturday, Human Rights Watch accused the head of the country’s election commission, U Tin Aye, of bias in favour of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) is trying to wrest control of the lower and upper houses of parliament from the USDP.


Myanmar’s historic elections


A decisive NLD win would give the opposition the right to pick the next president, alongside the military, which retains 25 percent of the total number of parliamentary seats.

While Suu Kyi is barred by the current constitution from becoming president – her children are foreign nationals – an NLD majority would also allow her to manoeuvre politically, paving the way for constitutional amendments, and eventually an appointment to the presidency.

Small national parties and regional ethnic parties could drain some support from the opposition NLD of Aung San Suu Kyi [Ted Regencia/Al Jazeera]
“It is not just a matter of winning the elections, but also forming the government,” she had declared.

Still, observers say a strong victory is not assured as the USDP maintains organisational advantage, with many of its members coming from the military establishment that has ruled the country for decades. Smaller parties, including regional ethnic parties, could also drain support from Suu Kyi’s party.

In 1990, the NLD also swept the parliament, but the result was annulled by the military and Suu Kyi was placed under repeated house arrest until her release in 2010.

Taxi driver Daw Tin May Tung said she voted for the ruling party, USDP.[Ted Regencia/Al Jazeera]

Source: Al Jazeera

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