Hundreds of thousands of residents voted Sunday in Burma’s first democratic election in years, a historic event that could mark a new era for the country and pave the way to power for the longtime opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
Around the country, voters lined up before the polls opened at 6 a.m. and waited in the hot sun for hours to cast their ballots. Some polls were open after the 4 p.m. closing time because of demand. Afterward, many went on Facebook and posted photos of their ink-stained pinky fingers, the equivalent of an “I voted” sticker in Burma, also known as Myanmar.
By nightfall, hundreds of supporters of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party had gathered on the street in front of the party headquarters, waving red balloons, dancing, chanting and watching local election results on big-screen TVs. They cheered every time a yellow ballot was unfurled with a stamp next to a golden peacock, the symbol for the NLD. Some preliminary results might be known Monday, but the final official results could take days.
“We have been suffering for 25 years. Today we change the old system and bring in a new one,” said Theingi, a housewife and mother of two at the rally. She uses only one name.
Suu Kyi’s party was poised to make a strong showing in the Southeast Asian nation of 51 million, which was isolated from the world for more than half a century under a military dictatorship.
But the path to victory is hardly clear. Party members appear confident they will get the majority needed to govern. But the military will still control 25 percent of the seats in parliament and key ministries. A constitutional provision bars Suu Kyi, called “Mother Suu,” from becoming president. And the country has more than 90 parties, smaller groups that support Burma’s ethnic minorities that will also play a factor in forming a new government.
Suu Kyi, 70, was swarmed by international reporters Sunday when she voted in her home constituency of Bahan, as the current president, Thein Sein — the former general who heads the country’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party — cast his vote in the country’s capital of Naypyidaw.
Suu Kyi had said earlier in the week that if her party wins the majority of seats in parliament, she will govern the country despite the constitutional barrier.
“I’m going to be above the president,” she said. When asked how, she responded, “Oh, I have already made plans.”
Sein said Friday that the government would respect the outcome of the election, and many voters seemed eager to take him at his word. In Burma’s last democratic election in 1990, Suu Kyi and the NLD won an overwhelming majority, but the country’s military dictatorship ignored the results and placed her under house arrest, where she remained off and on for the better part of two decades.
“I think it will be free and fair overall,” said one of Sein’s supporters, Aye Aye Mu, 28, a mother of two who comes from a military family.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Annie Gowen