On Sunday (Nov 8) Myanmar's polling booths closed after nearly 37 million people voted in the country's general elections. Notably, this is only the second democratic elections held in the trouble Southeast Asian nation in as many as five decades, since the end of its military rule. Although Myanmar since independence has had four elections until now, two of them remain unrecognised by its military which acted as a de facto one-party system that did not allow other parties to contest. Sunday's vote comes in the middle of a pandemic as millions of people braved virus fears and despite a resurgence in Covid cases thronged to the polling stations to cast their ballot.
Although this year nearly 37 million people were eligible to vote out of the 56 million-strong population and over 90 parties fielded their candidates for seats in the lower and upper houses of the parliament, Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to retain power again. In spite of Aung San Suu Kyi's controversial reputation in the international councils, her party NLD (National League for Democracy) comfortably leads the way as electoral officials are expected to announce results on Monday.
After a landslide victory in 2015 which was Myanmar's first democratic election in 50 years of military rule, Aung San Suu Kyi, who graduated with a degree in politics from Lady Shri Ram College in Delhi swept the polls with a remarkable victory. The elections were largely believed to be free and fair, except for one caveat — the 2008 Army-drafted constitution which lay precedent in the country's governance and granted the military 25% of seats automatically in the Parliament. Despite several red flags being raised on concerns over its provision and access to block constitutional changes since the military held so much power within a democracy, the Delhi University Alumna was unable to bring the changes she promised. The proviso she ran on, to lessen the grip of the military and bring sustained peace, however, still remains unfulfilled.
Aung San Suu Kyi's party, although heavily favoured by the people, has met with fierce competition this year, compared to its first election, with over 90 parties contesting to prove their worth. However, NLD remains the most popular faction with a large national network, reinforced by a promise once again of chipping away at the military's powers piece-by-piece.
To a large extent of critics and political observers in Myanmar and abroad, the polls are viewed as Aung San Suu Kyi's defining stance against the military rule. The military's control over the constitution and how much the 75-year-old leader can break away from an army-dictated leadership will be scrutinised heavily. Her party's promise of economic growth has proven to benefit a great section of the middle-class communities in the country, but popular opinion is that it still fell short of expectations.
The other major cause of concern is the issue of treatment of ethnic minorities, in particular, Shan and Rakhine States' Rohingya population. Aung San Suu Kyi's failure to grant autonomy to those persecuted groups, and allowing the well-armed Arakan Army which claims to represent the Buddhist Rakhine ethnic group maintain superiority, continue to haunt the Nobel laureate who has been struggling to maintain peace and order in the region. This is evidently the biggest military threat that the country has witnessed in years.
Myanmar's Election Commission (EC) announced that it would cancel voting in some areas where parties were too critical of the incumbent government. This has unsurprisingly drawn heavy criticism, some estimate that this move could disenfranchise over a million people's right to vote this year. Critics have taken to social media to accuse the EC of conspiring to do NLD's bidding. Laying the foundation for a better future.
Locals are convinced that despite the fundamental flaw in Myanmar's military-written constitution and deceptive democratic rights granted only to some communities, there is much to rejoice as it gives the people reason to believe change is around the corner and good things are coming.
With over 11% of all candidates who participated aged between 25-35 and a great deal of the contestants all being educated and from reputable walks of life with a great passion towards social reform, hope is the local flavour in town.