Vote counting underway for Myanmar

  • 09/11/2015
Volunteers count votes at polling station in central Yangon (Reuters)
Volunteers count votes at polling station in central Yangon (Reuters)

Vote counting in Myanmar's landmark election is well under way following a massive turnout that could see Aung San Suu Kyi's party catapulted to power and the end of decades of military control.

Millions had queued on Sunday to cast their ballots in an event heavy with history and filled with emotion.

As the count began in earnest, early indications were of an "80 per cent" turnout, according to Union Election Commission deputy director Thant Zin Aung, a figure the opposition believe favours their bid for a majority.

Thousands of supporters, many decked out in the red of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, gathered outside the party's Yangon headquarters in the hope of some indication of victory from Suu Kyi.

But the woman known affectionately as "The Lady" did not appear.

Instead NLD official Tin Oo read a message from the party's figurehead.

"I urge you to wait for the result from your own homes," he said, adding: "When the result comes out, I want you to accept it calmly."

Chanting "Amay (Mother) Suu must win, NLD must win!", the crowd began to thin as the evening wore on with no result in sight.

More than 30 million people were eligible to vote in Myanmar's freest election for a generation.

The NLD believes a fair vote will power it into government after a decades-long struggle against army dictatorship.

But Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi is barred from the presidency by the army-scripted constitution and the NLD faces an uphill struggle because a quarter of seats are still reserved for the military.

In the capital Naypyidaw, President Thein Sein, himself a one-time top-ranking junta general, smiled for the cameras and held up his little finger, stained with purple ink, after voting.

His army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party is the main obstacle to an NLD victory, and needs only around a third of seats to join up with the military bloc to choose the president.

Many voters remain nervous about how the powerful army will react if it loses, with concerns over the fraud that riddled previous elections.

But after casting his vote in the capital, Myanmar's powerful army chief said his troops would respect the voice of the electorate.

"Just as the winner accepts the result, so should the loser," Min Aung Hlaing told reporters.

The day belonged to the queues of ordinary people, many wearing traditional lungyi sarongs, who swarmed to polling stations across the nation.

At Suu Kyi's rural constituency of Kawhmu, where the opposition leader travelled after casting her ballot, smiling crowds jostled for space with the media scrum.

"I was very excited and so worried that I might do something wrong that my hands were shaking," said fish-seller Kay Khine Soe, recounting the moment she cast her vote.

The head of the European Union's election monitoring team, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, offered cautious optimism, but warned risks remained during vote counting.

Washington welcomed the elections, but said they were "far from perfect", citing the army-reserved seats, disenfranchisement of minorities and the "arbitrary" disqualification of certain candidates.

The 70-year-old Suu Kyi is not allowed to be president under a charter that blocks anyone with foreign children from top office - Suu Kyi's two sons are British.

Timeline of Myanmar politics:

1941-1945 Japan occupies Burma during WWII. Nationalist hero Aung San fights with the Japanese, but turns against them in the closing stages of the war, joining the Allied counter-offensive in the hope of achieving independence. His daughter Aung San Suu Kyi is born in 1945.

1948 Burma attains full independence from the British on January 4; Aung San is assassinated months earlier.

1962 General Ne Win seizes power in a coup, turning the country from a multi-party federal union into an authoritarian one-party state ordered to follow his "Burmese Path to Socialism".

1988 Disastrous economic mismanagement and political repression see Burma erupt in protest. The military responds brutally, killing an estimated 3000 people. Suu Kyi emerges as a key opposition leader.

1989 Junta changes the country's name to Myanmar.

1990 Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy wins a landslide victory in elections but the result is ignored by the military who launch a new crackdown. Suu Kyi is placed under house arrest, where she will spend most of the next 20 years. Many other opposition leaders are jailed or flee.

1991 Suu Kyi wins the Nobel Peace Prize while under house arrest.

1992 Than Shwe becomes the new junta chief.

2007 Major protests dubbed the "Saffron revolution" break out over the northern summer, partially led by Buddhist monks; scores of protesters are killed by the army.

2010 The junta holds elections in early November and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party claims victory. The NLD and many other parties refuse to take part. Observers do not consider the poll free or fair. Less than a week after the election, Suu Kyi is released after spending 15 of the last 20 years under house arrest.

2011 In a surprise move, the junta relinquishes power to a quasi-civilian government under former Thein Sein who pursues reforms. Many basic rights are restored, including the lifting of restrictions on assembly and expression, while hundreds of political prisoners are freed.

2012 The NLD wins 43 out of 45 seats in April by-elections. Suu Kyi becomes an MP. The US and EU lift sanctions and Western businesses start flocking to the country. In November, Barack Obama becomes the first US president to visit Myanmar.

2015 Campaigning begins for crunch polls.