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BURMA ELECTION: So far, so good

People line up to cast their votes at a polling station in Rangoon on 8 November 2015. (PHOTO: Reuters)

Voting in Burma’s general election is well underway, and no major incidents have marred polling in the main cities. Reports from all the rural areas have not filtered through yet, and it seems at this early stage that if any major vote-buying or fraud is to take place in will be in outlying communities away from the glare of the TV cameras and international observers.

Queuing at polling stations in Rangoon is said to be orderly, with voters in good humour. Turnout is expected to be high. Campaign colours and emblems have been removed from the vicinity of voting centres, and no serious cases of intimidation have been reported.

In an early statement, Alexander Lambsdorff, chief observer of the European Union mission, said the voting procedure looked to be “rather reliable” at the Bahan Township polling station he monitored.

“It is not free of flaws or shortcomings, but we didn’t expect that,” he said. “However, some of the things that have been discussed before do not seem to pose a great problem at this point – the voters list for example. We have not seen problems with the identification of voters here in Yangon [Rangoon] but perhaps in the countryside, we will get a different kind of information.”

Many media outlets have listed a series of electoral mishaps, some of which were petty or isolated: ink ran out at a polling station; someone tore up a voter register; an entire batch of ballots arrived in Shwebo which were marked for a Sagaing constituency.

The most serious allegation reported to date would be that a representative or supporter of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has been offering 100,000 kyat (US$80) ‘loans’ to voters on the condition that there is no need to return the money if the USDP wins the election. The NLD has released a statement saying it is pursuing the matter.

Much of the morning’s focus has been on ‘The Lady’ – opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Followed by a media scrum, she first voted this morning in Bahan Township, before heading 25 kilometres south of Rangoon to Kawhmu, where she is the incumbent Lower House MP.

This is said to be the first time in her life that Suu Kyi has ever voted. She was under house arrest in 1990 and 2010. In 2012, when she contested a by-election for the NLD, she was forced to run in Kawhmu as there was no by-election in her native constituency of Bahan.

The morning’s media headlines have fawned over the Nobel laureate in terms respectful of a saviour-in-waiting: “Aung San Suu Kyi and the Finest Hour of the Golden Peacock” (Mizzima); “Aung San Suu Kyi’s Long Fight for Democracy” (The West Australian); “Aung San Suu Kyi’s Day of Destiny Arrives as Myanmar Goes to the Polls” (NDTV).

The USDP, for its part, have largely put a large smile and a positive spin on the process.

Party Chairman Htay Oo said the USDP expects to win 65 percent of the entire vote. If they do, it will be game, set and match to the ruling party. But few neutral observers expect that to be the case.

Writing this morning in the Bangkok Post, analyst Larry Jagan said the NLD “probably will not win an absolute majority.”

The key number of seats is 221 in Lower House terms. The House has 440 seats, 25 percent of which will be handed over to military appointees. The NLD, therefore, must aim to win 67 percent of all constituencies in order to take 221 seats, which would give them a 51 percent majority in the House of Representatives. The same scenario exists for the Upper House.

But even if the NLD do sweep the polls and win a landslide victory, it is highly improbable that a straightforward transition will take place.

In effect, today’s election could be just the first step in a long process before we know who will lead the country.

 

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