Suu Kyi party set to win Myanmar vote

AUNG NAING SOE and PYAE SONE WIN
·2-min read

Voters in Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon, have turned up in large numbers for nationwide elections that are expected to return the party of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to power.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won the last elections in 2015 in a landslide, ending more than five decades of military-dictated rule in the country.

With Myanmar under threat from a coronavirus surge, mask wearing was mandatory in the lines at polling stations, and many voters also donned plastic face shields and gloves. Body temperatures were taken and hand sanitizing gel was freely dispensed by officials, but social distancing rules were only fitfully observed.

Traditional campaigning ahead of the election was severely limited by social distancing and quarantines in some areas.

The ability of Suu Kyi's administration to run the country has been hamstrung by a clause in the 2008 army-drafted constitution giving the military 25 percent of the seats in Parliament, allowing it to block constitutional reforms.

More than 90 parties are competing for seats in the lower and upper houses of Parliament, while there were also elections at the state levels. There were more than 37 million people eligible to vote, including 5 million first-timers.

With the opposition in disarray, Suu Kyi, who is the nation's leader with the title of state counsellor, remains Myanmar's most popular politician. But her government has fallen short of expectations, with economic growth doing little to alleviate widespread poverty and a failure to ease tensions among the country's fractious ethnic groups.

Suu Kyi, 75, cast her ballot late last month in the capital, Naypyitaw, as citizens 60 years of age and over were encouraged to vote in advance, along with those who were forced by the coronavirus to stay away from their home constituencies.

Her party's main challenger, as it was five years ago, was the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, which has led the opposition in Parliament.

The Election Commission said it would begin to announce results Monday morning. But it may take up to a week to collect all the votes, some of which will come from remote jungle areas.

The plight of Myanmar's Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority - an issue of major concern outside the country - played no real role in the campaign. A brutal 2017 counterinsurgency campaign by Myanmar's army drove about 740,000 Rohingya to flee across the border to Bangladesh, leading to a World Court investigation of possible genocide.

Long-standing prejudice against the Rohingya, whom many consider illegal immigrants from South Asia despite their families having been settled in Myanmar for generations, has deprived most of Myanmar citizenship and basic rights, including voting.