Millions vote for Myanmar's future
MILLIONS voted yesterday in Myanmar's first free nationwide election in 25 years, which could catapult Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party into power, although it is doubtful that would mean an end to military interference in government.
After a day marked by euphoric lines of voters - and a rock star welcome for Ms Suu Kyi as she voted near Yangon - the count began after polling stations shut at 4pm local time.
Officials said a definite election result is not expected to emerge until tomorrow morning, reported Reuters.
Early indications were that "80 per cent" of the 30 million voters cast their vote, a figure that might favour the NLD's bid for a majority in the Parliament, reported the Agence France-Presse.
Thousands of candidates ran in the election for parliamentary and regional assembly seats.
The NLD believes a fair vote will power it into government after a decades-long struggle against army dictatorship.
But Ms Suu Kyi, Myanmar's pro-democracy icon, is barred from the presidency by the army-scripted Constitution, and the NLD faces an uphill struggle as a quarter of parliamentary seats are still reserved for the military.
Ms Suu Kyi, 70, said she will be the power behind the new president if she is able to form Myanmar's first democratically elected government since the early 1960s.
The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), an army-backed behemoth led by President Thein Sein, a one-time top-ranking junta general, is the main obstacle to an NLD victory.
Many voters remain nervous about how the army will react if it loses, given that in 1990 it annulled the election outcome following an NLD victory and then put Ms Suu Kyi under house arrest for the next 20 years.
But after casting his vote in the capital Naypyitaw, army chief Min Aung Hlaing said that his troops would respect the voice of the electorate.
"Just as the winner accepts the result, so should the loser," the senior general told reporters.
There were no reports of violence throughout yesterday's vote, according to international observers.
However, religious tension, fanned by Buddhist nationalists hostile to the Muslim minority, marred the election campaign.
Among those excluded from voting were around a million Rohingya Muslims, who are not considered Myanmar citizens.
Although Myanmar's future is still dicey, voters were excited as the general election was also the first since the quasi-civilian government of Mr Thein Sein replaced military rule in 2011.
Factory manager Shein Win and his wife, Khin Myat Maw, both now 46, took part in the 1988 democracy protest that brought Ms Suu Kyi to prominence.
"We've been waiting for this day for a long time," said his wife as the couple queued to cast their votes.
To form a government and choose its own president, the NLD on its own or with allies must win more than two-thirds of all seats up for grabs, since the military, which is allied to the USDP, is already a confirmed bloc in the Parliament.
The military is also guaranteed key ministerial positions, and the Constitution gives it the right to take over the government under certain circumstances.
It also has a grip on the economy through holding companies.