First published on SBS online.
Thirty two million eligible voters will choose their preferred candidates today in Myanmar’s most hotly contested general elections in two and half decades. While the credibility of the elections have been marred by inconsistent electorate lists and cancelled voting in minority states, the smiles of accomplishment from some of the first voters in Yangon makes it difficult to deny the potential for real change after today’s milestone election.
At 6am local time, the gates of a polling station in Bahan township, Yangon, welcomed its first voters of the day, who were visibly excited to cast their vote.
Gloria and her father were among the first batch to complete their vote. The pair proudly displayed their purple inked pinky fingers, a new method that marks each voter with staining ink to indicate their vote has been completed and prevent repeated ballots.
At the same polling station, Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy arrived shortly after to cast her vote.
The NLD is expected to secure a large number of contested seats but under the current constitution, Aung San Suu Kyi is excluded from the presidency.
Known here as ‘The Lady’, Aung San Suu Kyi has assured voters that she will remain “above the president” if her party can harness a majority.
For first time voter Myo Hsu Wai, participating in today’s election is very important. The 19 year old hopes her ballot will contribute towards lasting change and development for the country.
“Every vote matters. It’s every citizen’s responsibility to vote because our country needs so many change so we need to vote to select a very good leader for that kind of change.”
“Our country has started reform and this election will be very different and more effective than previous ones,” she said.
Current president and ruler of the military backed USDP, Thein Sein, secured the majority vote in the 2010 elections, largely seen as flawed and boycotted by Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratic party.
As the first civilian president after decades of military rule, Thein Sein’s term saw the release of political prisoners, increased foreign investment and most recently, an inked Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with eight of the nation’s armed minority groups.
Myo Hsu Wai’s grandmother, Thant, says she is quite happy with Thein Sein’s steps of progress.
“I’m hoping and praying that whoever comes up will try to continue what this present government has started. This present government has started on the right foot,” said Thant.
The current government has said it will accept the results of the election, unlike the landslide NLD victory that went unrecognised by the military government in 1990.
Voters have tasted democracy in action today and while change may be slow, the potential for change will leave a lasting red stain on the public conscious in Myanmar, resembling the stubborn bleached teeth of local betel nut chewers.