YANGON (MindaNews /08 November) – Amid intense international attention, residents here went out of their homes early Sunday to cast their ballots in Myanmar’s parliamentary elections, the second under the country’s 2008 Constitution written by the military junta but dubbed the second-next to the 1990 polls to be held within increased democratic circumstances.
Against the backdrop of the picturesque Sule pagoda in downtown Yangon, around 20 people milled around the city’s fire station which was designated as polling station.
At 6 a.m, they were called to a queue as the polls officially opened in more than 40,000 voting centers for over 30 million voters across 15 states and regions. The balloting closed at 4 p.m.
Some analysts estimate that as much as a third of those who trooped to the polls were first-time voters.
“I am excited because this is my first. I hope my vote will make a difference for the future of my country,” said 19-year old Myu Hsu Wai, a business student at the state-run National Management College.
“I hope the next government will focus on improving the situation of poor people,” Myu Hsu Wai added, happily showing her left pinky finger stained with indelible ink.
“I am happy. This is our chance for change,” said U Win Htein, 59, who braved the long queue at Yangon’s Bahan township.
At 9 a.m., Burmese democracy icon and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi cast her ballot at Bahan Basic Education Primary School No. 3 amid a huge throng of journalists awaiting her arrival at the voting center.
After casting her vote, she kissed her folded ballot before dropping it to the box.
Suu Kyi, who heads the main opposition party National League for Democracy (NLD), is contesting a seat for the Pyithu Hluttaw (Lower House) in Kawhmu township but cast her vote in Bahan where she lives.
Suu Kyi has been a symbol of the country’s democracy struggle.
“This is it. Just like in (a person’s) life, things must change in our country,” said a 75-year old retired English professor at Rangoon University of Science and Arts.
She voted in advance on Nov. 6, a privilege granted to, among others, senior citizens, but went to the Bahan school just to catch a glimpse of Suu Kyi.
A middle-aged woman said she has greater confidence in the polls now because the process is more transparent and the balloting is open to the public’s view.
The world’s eyes are trained on Myanmar for the current political exercise that could decide the resource-rich country’s democratic future after about five decades of military rule.
“We hope world interest on Burma will spell the difference now,” said Myu Hsu Wai.
About 1,000 journalists registered for a press cards at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Myanmar.
International election observers such as those from the Carter Center and the European Union were deployed in the country.
On Wednesday, Suu Kyi asked the international community to stay on until the results of the elections are translated into a transition of power from the current government to one that will be formed by the party winning the parliamentary majority.
On Friday, President Thein Sein allayed concerns about the military and the ruling party’s hesitance to give up power if they lose in the polls.
“We will respect the outcomes of a free and fair elections,” Thein Sein said in an address over state-run television.
The military refused to hand over power to the political parties voted for parliament seats in 1990.
[This article originally appeared in Mindanews. It was written by Ryan Rosauro while on fieldwork for the 2015 Fellowship.]