Andrew RC Marshall - As polls closed on Myanmar’s historic election day, diplomats and other observers said the vote was largely free and fair, with no reports so far of violence or major fraud, just a solid turnout from a lively and informed electorate.

“From the dozens of people we have spoken to since 6 a.m. today, everybody feels they have been able to vote for whoever they wanted to in security and safety,” said Durudee Sirichanya, an international observer with the ASEAN Secretariat.

Factory manager Shein Win and his wife, Khin Myat Maw, arrived holding hands to cast their votes in Yangon in Myanmar’s first credible general election in 25 years. Both now 46, they took part in a 1988 democracy protest that brought Aung San Suu Kyi to prominence. “We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” said Khin Myat Maw as they stood in line.

There were cheers from crowds of well-wishers, who held up ink-stained fingers to show they had voted, as Suu Kyi made a whistle-stop tour of polling booths in her constituency near Myanmar’s commercial capital.

Roughly 30 million people were eligible to vote on Sunday, many expressing joy at the milestone their country had reached after nearly half a century of dictatorship, and a sense of duty to be part of it. One man who works as an accountant in Singapore said he had flown home just to vote and would head back the next day.

In a downtown neighbourhood of Myanmar’s northern city of Mandalay, Myint Myint, 95, was perched on a plastic chair carried by three men along a dirt path and past a snaking line of voters to the local polling station. “A vote is a vote,” her granddaughter, Phyo Kyaw explained. “Come on, this is our responsibility.”


But there was anxiety, too, as many voters recalled the election of 1990, when a landslide victory for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party was brushed aside by military rulers.

Khin May Oo, a 73-year-old doctor who voted in Yangon, said the election may have brought Myanmar to a turning point, but added nervously of the generals who retain significant power: “I’m not sure whether they will accept the election results.”

The military’s commander-in-chief told reporters on Sunday the outcome of the vote would be respected, even if - as is widely expected - Suu Kyi’s NLD emerges as the winner.

Indeed, at a military base in the capital, Naypyitaw, Captain Wai Yan Aung said when his duty shift ended he would change from his uniform into traditional dress and cast his vote. “It’s a big and exciting day for our country,” he said.

Dampening the celebration was the cancellation of voting in areas of the country affected by ethnic violence, which activists estimate has cut some 4 million people out of the electoral process.

In Mandalay, about 100 people were stopped from voting after election officials discovered they were outsiders who had been added to the voter list by a third party and then bussed in to vote.

“It was an attempt at fraud, that’s why we didn’t let them vote,” said Hla Soe of the Union Election Commission.

There was also indignation about voter lists riddled with errors. Linn Htet Aung, 25, who works for an environment NGO in Yangon, said he was excited about the potential for change in the country but disappointed because his name was omitted from the voter list in a slum area on the outskirts of the city.

“I am angry,” he said. “All my friends are voting today but I can’t. I want to choose the government I like but I can’t.”

Aung Than Htun, an NLD official monitoring a polling station in the slum, said he had discovered dead people on the voting list. But other than that “it seems fine”, he said.

Behind him, small white voting slips sat in piles on a table, with rocks and pebbles serving as paperweights. A sudden gust of wind blew a handful off the table and election officials had to scurry to collect them.

Purple fingers, poll cards mark change for voters

Hla-Hla HTAY

All through the day voters emerged onto Myanmar’s streets, patiently waiting under a tropical sun in snaking queues.

Among them supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy party hope their mark on the ballot will overhaul a country cramped for decades by ulcerous junta rule.

Some smiled, others wore a more determined look as they voted in an election many have craved for a generation but almost dared not believe would happen. “We want the system to change,” said Khin Myint Myint, 65, a retired university teacher, polling card in hand as he waited to vote in the wealthy Yangon township of Bahan. Satisfaction radiated from those who emerged from the polling stations, the purple tips of their little fingers raised in triumph after being inked to indicate they had voted.

“I’m very happy. Can I say who I voted for? Of course it was the NLD,” Swe Swe, a beaming 69-year-old housewife, told AFP, who like many in Myanmar was sporting an elegant longyi.

She was referring to Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), who are expected to make major gains if the vote is free and fair.

The early queues, which were seen across the country - from the mountainous north to the flat southern delta - pointed to a strong turnout, something observers say will likely benefit the NLD as it hunts a decisive poll victory. It needs to take just over two thirds of the contested seats to win a clear majority.

The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) needs just a third for a possible tie-up with the army, which already has a quarter of all seats guaranteed under the constitution.

Fears of election day chaos in a country which last held a fully contested poll 25 years ago appeared not to have played out - at least in Yangon.

Euphoria and fear

Yet euphoria among pro-democracy supporters has been tempered by caution over the days ahead in a country where the military has repeatedly turned to the gun to muzzle democratic aspirations.

“The NLD can change the country, I hope the president accepts the results of the election” if they win, Gloria, 24, a university student who only gave one name told AFP. President Thein Sein has said his USDP party would accept the outcome of the vote as did powerful army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Many voters who have not registered in time are also likely to be disappointed, particularly in constituencies home to large numbers of migrant workers.

For some of Myanmar’s citizens, the day held little joy. Hundreds of thousands of minority Rohingya Muslims in febrile Rakhine state have been excluded from the poll - in an apparent sop by the government to hardline Buddhist nationalists who say they are not citizens.

Voting has also been cancelled in multiple regions where conflict still rages between ethnic minority rebels and the military.–AFP

Several unverified photos on social media showed voters - apparently from ethnic groups - with sliced little fingers, a protest at not being able to vote.

In Rakhine Amina Khaton, 48, was one of the few Muslims allowed to cast a ballot - she belongs to the Kaman minority which has not been disenfranchised.

At a polling station near state capital Sittwe, many Kaman like her appeared to back the NLD as the best option to return them to their homes after religious violence sent them fleeing into displacement camps. “We hope we can be able to go back home if Daw Suu wins,” she said.