Voters in Myanmar hopeful as Suu Kyi's party claims win
Voters cast their ballots in Myanmar today in elections that include opposition figure Aung San Suu Kyi, a sign that the military regime is opening up.
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“If there is real democracy I have no doubt that Aung San Suu Kyi will win, but we’ll have to wait and see,” cautions Aye Aye Maw, a grandmother tending a small roadside stall selling snacks and soft drinks.Skip to next paragraph
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Results expected mid-week
Full official results are not expected until mid-week, but Suu Kyi said earlier this week that the campaign itself had served to “raise the political awareness of our people … to encourage them to free themselves from the fear of the past few decades … and to try to forge a united purpose.
“We have been energized by the eagerness and preparedness of our people to take part in the political process,” she added. “That in itself is a triumph for us, whatever the results of the election.”
There is still much to be done, however, warns Chan Tha Kyaw, the young election observer. “I’ve noticed that quite a few people are voting without knowing much about the candidates,” he says. “They have no idea what will happen if they vote for this or that candidate.”
In Myanmar’s countryside, home to 70 percent of the population, ignorance and confusion are even more widespread.
In the small village of Takaw 60 miles Southwest of Yangon, where hard-pressed farmers scrape a living by selling the rice and beans they harvest, Aung Min Naing watched his three bullocks chew on rice straw earlier this week and confessed that he did not know much about the elections and did not much care either.
The political changes that have electrified Yangon have made no difference to his life, beyond an increase in the amount he can borrow from the local branch of the state agricultural bank, and “I’m not interested in politics,” he said.
He had seen none of the three candidates running in his constituency, he added, and while NLD stickers on telephone polls, walls, and motorcycles showed the party had been campaigning hard, he did not know whether that meant it would win. “That," he said with a smile, “is a decision for the state.”
A bid to lift sanctions
President Thein Sein, the former general now spearheading reform in a bid to regain Myanmar’s international credibility and persuade the US and other western governments to lift economic sanctions, has pledged that Sunday’s vote will be free and fair.
The international observers witnessing the vote, however, were invited only at the last minute, and have warned that they will not have the time or resources to reach a proper judgment on the validity of the poll.
“The government’s intention was that these elections be free and fair, but for the past 50 years the underlying message has always been that official candidates should win at all costs,” says one foreign diplomat. “It may be difficult for lower level officials in charge of the polling stations to change that mentality.”
Early reports suggested the voting had gone reasonably smoothly, despite a number of irregularities at some polling stations. In more than one constituency, for example, voters complained that the check box beside the NLD candidate’s name on ballot papers had been smeared with a wax-like substance, making it impossible to mark.
* Editor's Note: Our correspondent Yangon cannot be identified for security reasons.
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