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Thousands braved the icy morning air of Myitkyina to queue up at polling stations across the city. For many of them, this was the first time to have a say on who will lead their country.
“I feel happy that I got to vote today,” said a man in his mid-20s. “I voted Kachin,” he added, without elaborating.
For many Kachin citizens, this election is more than just a chance to change the leadership of Burma, it is a new tactic in the battle for self-determination. Many Kachins feel that the old tactics of armed resistance have not succeeded, and support seeking a political solution to their woes, which decades of civil war and poverty have sown.
“We are working together for our people, our ethnic rights, our land and our self-determination,” said Lum Zawng, a candidate for the Kachin Democratic Party.
The mood at the polling stations was somewhat anxious as the lines stretched for hundreds of yards. Many of the young and old openly questioned how long they would have to wait. But the mood gradually gave way to enthusiasm as the line moved forwards.
A young woman emerged from the voting booth, a big smile on her face. She indicated the little finger on her left hand, proudly displaying a purple stain.
The exceptionally high turnout – not only in Myitkyina but across the state – may bode well for the five local Kachin parties. However, with the nationwide vote expected to be a two-horse race between the National League for Democracy and the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, it remains to be seen how many ethnic voters will abandon their local candidates in favour of either of the major parties.
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