Burma elections: Polls close and vote counting begins
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Burma elections: Polls close and vote counting begins

VOTE counting has begun in Burma’s historic elections, with the first results for the 6,000 candidates vying for the 664 seats in parliament expected to begin coming in Monday afternoon. Initial reports by the 11,000 local and international observers in the country suggest that so far there have been no voting irregularities and no reports of violence.

While initial results suggested Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party was leading in Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw, final results won’t be known for days, and crucial votes from the countryside may be longer in coming.

Peaceful elections

While long queues formed before dawn at polling booths at many places around the country, observers said the voting process was generally smooth with only isolated irregularities and no violence to spoil the mood. High security was put in place for the elections with 40,000 police engaged to guard the polling stations.

I never participated in the previous voting since I had doubts over it. But the election this time is fair. So I have come to vote.

The BBC reported that voters emerged smiling, showing their stained fingers. “When I cast my vote I was very excited and so worried that I might do something wrong that my hands were shaking,” Kay Khine Soe told the BBC, while Wuhan Datong said: “I am 57 years old. I never participated in the previous voting since I had doubts over it. But the election this time is fair. So I have come to vote.”

Polling stations closd at 4:00pm local time.

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Voter’s fingers were stained to prevent fraudulent voting. Pic: AFP.

Good voter turnout

While it is not compulsory for Burmese people to vote, and there were reports of apathy about the electoral process in the days preceding the election, the Union Election Commission reported that about 80 percent of registered voters turned out for the poll. However about 4 million people in the country were not allowed to vote, including most of the 1.1 million Rohingya minority.

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Queues at polling stations in Yangon, Myanmar. Pic: Ye Lin Aung .

Electoral monitoring

The head of the European Union’s election monitoring team, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff said, “We have not seen signs of cheating,” but he said there was still potential for problems during the transportation and counting of the ballots. He also told USN News voting in Yangon had been “rather reliable”. While some people in the nation were unable to take part, many said it was the first free and fair elections in their lives.

“We’ve been suppressed for a very long time by the government,” U Saan Maw, 63, told the New York Times. “This is our chance for freedom.”

The outcome

For Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party to gain a majority in the parliament and effect real change, they must take 67 percent of the seats. Twenty-five percent are already reserved for unelected military representatives. While the ruling military did not accept the 1990 vote which would have brought Suu Kyi to power, they said they would respect the results this time. President Thein Sein said, “I’d like to say again that the government and the military will respect and accept the results. I will accept the new government formed based on the election result.”

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Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was greeted by large crowds when she arrived to vote in Yangon. Pic: AP.

Thousands of NLD supporters gathered outside their headquarters in Yangon after the polls closed, with big screens broadcasting the counting. Aung San Suu Kyi did not appear, but supporters celebrated into the night hopeful of the pending result, although the Election Commission has given no set time or date when results will become official.