Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) are set to sweep the historic by-elections held in Myanmar on Sunday for 45 parliamentary seats.
After a day of peaceful voting, interspersed with some allegations of irregularities, the NLD said Ms. Suu Kyi won her seat of Kawhmu on the city outskirts. While the official results are not expected for a few days, the party, based on reports sent in by its representatives from counting centres in different townships, has claimed a landslide win.
Earlier in the day, as Sau Kar Kar Soe walked out of a classroom-turned-polling booth in northern Yangon's Mayangon area, he sported a wide smile. An interpreter with a trading company, Mr. Soe voted for the second time in his life — the first was at the 2010 elections, which the NLD boycotted. Without prodding, he told The Hindu: “Previously, I voted for the USDP [the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party] because there was no freedom, only fear. But I am with ‘The Lady' now.”
In an indication of the deep suspicion the party's supporters entertain for the military-backed government, despite its reforms, he expressed doubts about the results. “NLD is very popular but we must wait and see. The other side will have tricks.”
If a sense of both emancipation and suspicion marked the mood of some of the supporters, others were excited and confident. At a polling station in Mingalar Taung Nyunt township, the setting was relaxed, with journalists having been allowed to walk in up to the entrance of the booths. Voters continued to trickle in after lunch. They showed their citizenship cards, got a ballot paper, went to a quiet corner to make a choice, and dropped the ballot into a box. A strikingly diverse lot they were, coming as they did to express their political will, but with one thing in common — the NLD.
Kay Khine Moe, a young college girl studying English, was with her family, and shyly wrote down the name of ‘Aung San Suu Kyi' on a notebook to indicate whom she supported. Sonny Nyein, a 63-year-old sculptor, recalled voting in the earlier “socialist years,” and said he did not like the present Constitution, but ‘The Lady' would fight it from inside Parliament.
Maulana Jamaluddin whispered that the NLD had promised to end all “religious discrimination” and treat everyone equally. And even a local election volunteer wearing an official badge said the NLD would sweep. Speaking in Hindi, he added: “The government has told us safai se kaam karna, to work cleanly. This will not be like 2010. No fraud.”
But his sanguine assessment of ‘no fraud' was not as easily shared by NLD leaders in the afternoon. Saw Tin Uwin, a member of the party's campaign committee, flagged the concerns. “At many places, on the ballot paper, wax has been put over the space next to the NLD symbol, so that people cannot mark legibly, and it can be rubbed off. Then, there are places where 10-year-olds have voted, even as many eligible voters have not been allowed to vote.” The party has sent a complaint to the Union Election Commission, objecting to the tampered “waxed” ballots and accusing officials of refusing to replace them.
So did he think the entire process was flawed? “If it was totally free and fair, we would have won 100 per cent. But on a serious note, there were problems but overall, elections were ok,” Mr. Uwin replied, laughing.
The international community appeared to be veering round to a similar position. A senior western diplomatic source in Yangon told The Hindu that it was too early to comment, and they were waiting for reports from outside Yangon. “But my sense is there has been no large-scale issue that would call into question the credibility of the entire election. The absence of violence is positive as well.”
In the evening, the Secretary-General of the Association of South East Asian Nations, Surin Putsiwan, tweeted: “Reports from ASEAN Secretariat Election Observation Team in Myanmar at 7.30 are encouraging in terms of order, enthusiasm and high turnout!”