Myanmar has voted in its first election in 20 years as complaints of intimidation added to fears the poll was a sham to create a facade of democracy after decades of iron-fisted military rule.
Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi remained locked up and two pro-junta parties were together fielding about two-thirds of the total candidates, leaving the splintered opposition little chance of success.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi swept her party to power in 1990 but the result was never recognised by the ruling generals.
She has been detained for most of the past 20 years and supported a boycott of the election.
Some saw the poll as a small step towards democracy after almost five decades of autocratic rule, with opposition parties finally set to get a voice in parliament.
Despite the generals’ unpopularity, their Union Solidarity and Development Party appears secure, helped by huge financial and campaigning advantages and a climate of fear.
In many constituencies the poll was a two-horse race between the USDP and the National Unity Party, the successor to late dictator Ne Win’s party and closely aligned with the military.
A quarter of the seats in the two-chamber national parliament and regional legislatures are reserved for military appointees whatever the outcome. It is unclear when the results will be announced.
Two opposition parties accused the USDP – formed by ministers who retired from the military in April – of illegally collecting advance ballots.
“My sense is that there were certainly cases of intimidation,” said Britain’s ambassador to Myanmar, Andrew Heyn, who expressed concern about the many anecdotal reports of advance voting irregularities. These votes are very open to abuses.”
The National Democratic Force, created by former members of Suu Kyi’s disbanded party, said some people complained they were told by the USDP there was no need to vote as their ballots had already been collected.
NDF leader Khin Maung Swe said his party was optimistic about its prospects in those areas where it was standing, with queues forming at some polling stations, which closed at 4pm. “I heard they voted mostly for the bamboo hat,” he said, referring to his party’s logo.
More than 29 million people were eligible to vote, but it was uncertain how many would actually cast ballots in the impoverished nation of about 50 million that runs from the mountainous Kachin state in the north, bordering China, to the southern coast on the Andaman Sea.
“I don’t know about any of the parties. I will vote how my mother tells me,” said Myo Zaw, a 22-year-old newspaper delivery man. AFP