By Mratt Kyaw Thu and Carlos Sardiña Galache
Yangon/Bangkok, Nov 7 (efe-epa).- Myanmar is set to vote on Sunday in its second democratic elections after over half a century of military dictatorship, with State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi expected to retain her mandate.
The voting culminates five years of the Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy party’s rule marked growing ethnic divisions in the Southeast Asian country and rising health concerns due to the coronavirus pandemic in the last 10 months.
Despite a second wave of virus infections since October, the government ignored calls to delay elections and decided to go ahead with the exercise as scheduled.
However, authorities have put in place strict measures to prevent infections, drastically cut down the number of campaign meetings, and allowed people above the age of 60 to vote in advance over one week.
Almost 10 years after Myanmar began a democratic transition fiercely controlled by the military, around 38 million voters are registered to elect representatives to parliament.
However, few people doubt that Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy would secure the majority.
“I am so excited this time. I think if we win this time again, we can really get rid of the military from the parliament. We need to show our desire that we totally want them out. Voting is a chance to show that,” Yin Yin Nwe, a 63-year-old retired nurse, told EFE after voting early this week in Yangon, the country’s biggest city.
Yin Yin Nwe, who said she had voted for the NLD, was referring to the 25 percent seats reserved for the armed forces in both houses of the parliament as per the 2008 constitution passed by the military junta.
The constitution also grants three key ministries to the military along with near-complete autonomy from the civilian government.
The Suu Kyi-led government’s efforts to change the Magna Carta have been fruitless so far in the face of rejection by the military top brass, which had kept the Nobel peace laureate under house arrest for 15 years during the dictatorship due to her opposition to the junta.
“Some people say we have got a democratic government. Actually it is sort of misleading. We are trying to be one and are still on the way to,” Sai Lin Lin Oo, 29, one of the youngest NLD candidates, told EFE.
“But we have been facing obstacles on the way. We have tried five years but the big obstacles are still there.”
Tensions between the civilian government and the military were evident this week when armed forces chief Min Aung Hlaing accused the authorities of irregularities in the elections process.
The government responded by saying his speech was “unconstitutional’ and could “create instability.”
However, the election has a different character in the country’s border regions, home to multiple ethnic minorities, many of which have been in a state of war with the central government for decades over the demand for autonomy.
The current government has failed to resolve the separatist conflicts despite having announced that the peace process was a top priority.
It could help the dozens of ethnic-nationalist minority parties in the fray to win more seats in the parliament compared to previous elections.
“I think it is enough for five years. I voted for the NLD in 2015. I travel a lot to the Shan state for my trade. Every time when fighting occurs, I lose money,” said Kyaw Tun Naing, 68, a fruit trader.
He said he had voted for the People’s Party, a new group led by veteran activist Ko Ko Gyi.