Opposition parties had called for a postponement of the elections due to the surge in coronavirus cases, but the ruling NLD and the Union Election Commission insisted on moving forward. Elderly voters were allowed to vote in advance while the government promised to provide adequate personal protective equipment for election officials and to ensure social distancing at each polling station.
In South Okkalapa township in eastern Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, hundreds of voters – in masks, masks and gloves – lined up outside a polling station at dawn to vote.
Voters in the region chose between Thet Naing Soe of the NLD and prominent democracy activist Ko Ko Gyi, who criticized the ruling party for failing to amend the constitution drafted by the military, which gives the army 25% of seats in parliament.
Aung Myo, a resident of southern Okkalapa, said he voted for Suu Kyi’s NLD. “She is very strong, strong for the truth and our country,” he told Al Jazeera.
Su Moe Thant, a 23-year-old student, said she was “excited” to vote.
“I have friends who don’t want to vote, they don’t like the current political system and don’t want to choose and go without a vote. I really don’t like it, it’s a democracy where you can choose what you want. You can vote independent but it’s important to vote, ”she said.
… Voters are clearly determined to vote despite the potential health risks and not to take this right for granted – this is only the second general election since the end of military rule in 2011. Generally serious mood in the queue. waiting to vote, then excited about taking a selfie. The tea shops are also very busy.
– Richard Horsey (@rshorsey) November 8, 2020
More than 37 million people were eligible to vote in elections to choose members of the upper and lower houses in an election that Human Rights Watch called “fundamentally flawed.” The US-based group last month denounced the exclusion of voters from the Rohingya ethnic minority, the criminal prosecution of government critics, as well as unequal access by parties to state media.
Votes were also canceled in ethnic minority areas, with the electoral commission citing concerns about security amid fighting between military and ethnic rebel groups. Most affected is Rakhine State, where the army is fighting against the Arakan army, a grassroots rebel group seeking greater autonomy for the Rakhine people.
The cancellation of the vote shifts the electoral field decisively in favor of the NLD in Rakhine, a state where it is arguably the least popular, and analysts have warned that the conflict could escalate following the elections.
The western state is also home to the persecuted Rohingya minority, whom Myanmar considers immigrants from Bangladesh and who were unable to register to vote. More than 730,000 other people of the ethnic group fled Myanmar for Bangladesh following a brutal military crackdown in 2017, and Antonio Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general, said on Friday he hoped Sunday’s vote would allow the return of refugees in “Safety and Dignity”.
Guterres also renewed his call for a “nationwide ceasefire to allow everyone to focus on tackling the COVID-19 pandemic” and said he remained “concerned about the armed conflict in many parts of Myanmar, particularly the intensification of clashes in Rakhine and Chin states ”.
For her part, Suu Kyi, in her last campaign speech Thursday, pledged to strengthen democracy if she is re-elected.
Acknowledging the grievances over the organization of the vote, she said that “the important thing is to resolve these issues by peaceful means within the limits of the laws”, and urged voters to remain calm and maintain “stability”.
“We have to create our own future,” she added.
Analysts predict a landslide victory for the NLD, but Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief, General-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, refused to pledge to honor Sunday’s election results, criticizing “the widespread violation of laws and the procedures of the pre-vote process ”.
“In 2015, I was asked in an interview. I said if the commission announced that the election was free and fair, we would simply accept the result. But now we are in a situation where we have to be careful, ”he said on Tuesday, referring to the elections that brought the NLD to power five years ago.
The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is the NLD’s main opponent in Sunday’s elections.