Aung San Suu Kyi seen safe as Myanmar votes

Voters in Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon, turned out on Sunday in large numbers to vote in nationwide elections that are expected to return to power the party of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Aung San Suu Kyi seen safe as Myanmar votes

People wearing face shields, masks and rubber gloves to halt the spread of coronavirus wait to vote in nationwide elections at a polling station in Yangon, Myanmar on Sunday.

Voters in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, turned out early Sunday in large numbers to vote in nationwide elections that are expected to return to power the party of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won the last elections in 2015 in a landslide, ending more than five decades of military-dictated rule.

With Myanmar under threat from a coronavirus surge, mask wearing was mandatory in the lines at polling stations, and many voters also donned plastic face shields and gloves. Body temperatures were taken and hand sanitizing gel was freely dispensed by officials, but social distancing rules were only fitfully observed.

Traditional campaigning ahead of the election was severely limited by social distancing and quarantines in some areas.

“The voter turnout here is more than we expected,” said Zaw Win Tun, a neighborhood administrator and official at Yangon’s Pho Myae polling station. “I think people are excited to vote, as they would like to escape from the political struggles. They want real democracy.” He did not elaborate, but appeared to be referring to a power struggle between Suu Kyi’s civilian government and the military.

The ability of Suu Kyi’s administration to run the country has been hamstrung by a clause in the 2008 army-drafted constitution giving the military 25 percent of the seats in Parliament, allowing it to block constitutional reforms.

At another polling station, 19-year-old Eaint Yadanar Oo said she was excited because it was her first time voting.

“I came here to vote to perform my civic duty,” she said. She explained that she was afraid of the coronavirus pandemic, but that she “came here with full protection because I want better educational and job opportunities.”

More than 90 parties are competing for seats in the lower and upper houses of Parliament, while there were also elections at the state levels.

There were more than 37 million people eligible to vote, including 5 million first-timers.

With the opposition in disarray, Suu Kyi, who is the nation’s leader with the title of state counselor, remains Myanmar’s most popular politician.

But her government has fallen short of expectations, with economic growth doing little to alleviate widespread poverty and a failure to ease tensions among the country’s fractious ethnic groups.

Suu Kyi, 75, cast her ballot late last month in the capital, Naypyidaw, as citizens 60 and over were encouraged to vote in advance, along with those who were forced by the coronavirus to stay away from their home constituencies.

Her party’s main challenger, as it was five years ago, was the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.

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