Myanmar’s Suu Kyi needed to win when elections start By Reuters
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Myanmar State Councilor Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech to the nation on the Rohingya situation at Rakhine in Naypyitaw, Myanmar
From Reuters employees
YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar voted on Sunday in what was seen as a referendum on a young democratic government whose reputation has collapsed overseas on charges of genocide but which remains popular at home.
Leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) is expected to win a second term in the second general election since the end of decades of military-backed rule.
She is backed by a population who, for the most part, view her as a heroine of democracy, although her victory is likely to be less than the landslide victory that brought her to power in 2015.
More than 37 million people are registered to vote, but fears over the rapid spread of COVID-19 in recent months could dampen voter turnout.
In the largest city, Yangon, queues formed at polling stations before voting began. Voters in masks, face shields, and hair coverings waited patiently in evenly spaced lines as the sun rose.
Sai Kyaw Latt Phyo, 31, said it was the first time in three months that he had left home. Myanmar has an average of nearly 1,100 new coronavirus cases per day, compared to a handful per day in early August.
“I think the risk is worth it,” he told Reuters. “We have to take the risk in such a crucial situation for our country.”
Chaw Ei Twin, 38, said she was doing her civic duty.
“I gave my vote to a party that can change the country. I voted for the same party last time,” she said without specifying which party.
Suu Kyi’s defenders say critics are unrealistic to expect rapid change in the country after half a century of military rule and are hampering efforts to progress gradually.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday he hoped for “peaceful, orderly and credible elections” that could allow hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya in camps in neighboring Bangladesh to return “in safety and dignity”.
More than 730,000 Rohingya, members of a persecuted Muslim minority, fled the country after the UN was executed with genocidal intent in 2017, according to the United Nations. Myanmar says it conducted legitimate operations against militants who attacked police stations.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya are housed in camps and villages in Rakhine state, Myanmar, largely denied citizenship and unable to vote, along with more than a million other people in areas where polls have been canceled due to rioting.
Suu Kyi, the 75-year-old Nobel Prize winner who is still known to many as “Mother Suu”, is still extremely popular in Myanmar. A recent survey by the local watchdog found that 79% of people considered her the most trustworthy person in the country.
However, enthusiasm is weaker in remote regions dominated by ethnic minorities. Many of them feel left out of the Bamar-majority Buddhist central government.
Doi Bu, vice chairman of the Kachin State People’s Party, one of several new ethnic parties that have emerged from mergers, said the government failed to partially transform the region because it was intimidated by the army.
“While five years is not long, the NLD did nothing necessary, starting with (changing) the constitution,” she said.
The Army retains significant powers under the Constitution, including a quarter of the seats in Parliament and a veto on changes to the Charter.
Tensions between the government and the military were high. Secretary-General Min Aung Hlaing said in a rare interview last week that the government made “unacceptable mistakes” in the run-up to the elections.
He said opposition parties have complained about irregularities, including incomplete and inaccurate voter lists. The president’s office said his remarks could create fear and unease days before the vote.
The electoral commission has done its best to ensure that the polls are free and fair.
Smaller parties also say coronavirus restrictions have made it difficult for them to get their message across.
Myint Myint Aye, a street vendor from Yangon, said she knew little about the 90+ parties, including some new ones.
“Our choices are limited due to COVID-19,” she said.