Suu Kyi's date with destiny arrives

  • 08/11/2015
Women label ballots at a polling station ahead of tomorrow's general election in Mandalay, Myanmar (Reuters)
Women label ballots at a polling station ahead of tomorrow's general election in Mandalay, Myanmar (Reuters)

Myanmar has begun voting in a historic election that could thrust Aung San Suu Kyi's pro-democracy party into power and finally pull the country away from the grip of the military.

Queues of people, many wearing traditional longyi sarongs, built up before daybreak at polling stations across Yangon, in a sign of the enthusiasm that has accompanied the milestone poll.

"All polling stations around the country opened at 6am (2330 GMT) at the same time," Ko Ko, an election commission official said on Sunday.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party believes a fair vote will power it into government.

The Nobel laureate - affectionately known as "Mother Suu" - towers over the country's democracy movement, acting as a galvanising force for the NLD.

But she is barred from the presidency by the army-scripted constitution.

Still excitement has built among voters in recent days, despite nerves over how the powerful army will react if it loses.

The southeast Asian nation was ruled for five decades by a brutal junta that smothered opponents with violence, jail and political sleight of hand.

But in 2011 the junta suddenly handed power to a semi-civilian government led by former generals.

Sweeping reforms since have loosened the straitjacketed economy and brought many freedoms to an isolated, wearied people - including the release of most political prisoners.

Some 30 million people are eligible to vote, in an event that has posed major logistical challenges across a vast and poor country.

Polls will close in the late afternoon with official results expected to start trickling out by early Monday.

It is the first election the NLD has contested since 1990, when the party claimed a landslide only to see the army ignore the result and condemn Suu Kyi to 20 years under house arrest.

"I will vote for Daw Suu as she is the only one who can bring change for us," said Nan Pan Aye, a 35-year-old shop owner in Karen State, using the honorific "daw".

The 70-year-old Suu Kyi is barred from the presidency by a constitutional clause believed to have been inserted by the army to hamper her political rise.