Perched for hours on smoky city streets and rural dirt roads, voters in Myanmar showed up on Sunday in an election that was supposed to make Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling party become the largest force in the National Assembly of this country.
The strong turnout rate, only in the second truly disputed election the country has staged for decades, underscores voters’ commitment to Myanmar’s fledgling democracy, which remained in the shadow of a military dictatorship that ruled for 50 years.
Halfway around the world from where the Americans are assessing their democratic status, the elections in Myanmar serve as a pivotal referendum on a disordered political transition. self as well as not according to regulations.
“I have to vote today because my vote will be counted for the future of our country,” said U Sithu Aung, a physiotherapist who waited two hours in the sun to quit. votes in Mandalay city. “I know there is a risk of Covid, but voting is more important than being infected with a virus.”
The elections have given voice to a generation of young, independent candidates and ethnic politicians, in a country that has long been dominated by two political components: the Confederation The Nation for Democracy, the top political party and the military, retains the command of most of the government.
On Sunday, 102 parties compete in the election. Many ethnic parties and several other partisan parties were formed by people who had been close to the country’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who had just broken up with her.
Critics say the ruling party, although founded under a democracy as opposed to the military, is currently repeating some of the sins of its old enemy. The government of Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest by order of military generals, arrested a series of students, artists, and peasants, just for expressing their political views. .
The electoral commission, under the mandate of the ruling party, censored opposition party members and deprived many of the non-Burman minority.
“Abandoned people are not new in Myanmar,” said U Khin Zaw Win, a former political prisoner who runs a policy advisory organization in Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial capital. “Much has been interpreted this as the karma of Buddhism.”
Aung San Suu Kyi’s detractors also accuse the National League for Democracy of having developed into a personality cult revolving around a 75-year-old leader with a serious commander over her party. Abroad, the reputation of Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, has been battered by military protection during the ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya Muslims.
“The ruling party is very attached to Aung San Suu Kyi but we don’t want heroism,” said Ma Ei Thinzar Maung, a 26-year-old ethnic minority activist who ran for parliament in Yangon. “In this democratic era, democracy in Myanmar is out of date. We were hoping it would continue. “
Ms. Ei Thinzar Maung, who was jailed for student activism, lost to a ruling party candidate on Sunday.
After the military took power in 1962, elections took place in 1990; Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won an overwhelming victory, but the military ignored the results and prevented the formation of a civilian government. Elections were held again in 2010, following rules designed to stifle the opposition, which boycotted the competition.
When finally fairer elections were held in 2015, the National League for Democracy overtook the military-linked Solidarity and Development Party. Those elections started the era of power sharing between civilian government and the military.
Like the National African Congress in South Africa, the National League for Democracy remains the country’s preeminent political force, with widespread voter loyalty formed from years of political imprisonment. that the founders endured.
But the not-expected party on Sunday will win with a landslide match it did five years ago. Back then, having the opposition party coat was enough to motivate the candidates to win.
Around this time, there was a rumor about the National Democratic League’s shortcomings as a ruling party. The pandemic hit Myanmar late, but it is currently sweeping through the country with the worst healthcare system in the world. Despite lifting international sanctions on human rights concerns, Myanmar has never received the expected benefits in foreign investment. Coronavirus has devastated the economy even more.
And for all the voter enthusiasm that was recorded on Sunday, more than 1.5 million out of 37 million voters were excluded from the polls. Last month, the electoral commission canceled votes for many ethnic minorities living in conflict zones, citing security concerns. Legal experts point out that the vote should be suspended, not canceled immediately, and wonder if disenfranchisement was a deliberate ruling party tactic. .
Andrew Ngun Cung Lian, a constitutional scholar and ethnic peace negotiator, said: “In some ethnic areas, people are very hostile to the NLD and support national parties. . “It feels like the NLD took advantage of the war to silence the ethnic minorities.”
In addition to those whose votes were canceled last month, about one million Rohingya Muslims, many of whom were pushed out of the country by ethnic cleansing campaigns, were also unable to vote.
Ethnic minorities make up about one-third of Myanmar’s population, and they have endured military persecution: collective rape, forced labor and village burning, among other crimes committed by groups. right of recognition.
In the Mon state in southeastern Myanmar, Mi Yin Sa Ning said she chose a Mon ethnic party instead of the National League for Democracy. Like many in the state, she was furious when the government named a bridge there after Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, an independent icon who was considered a subjugation by some people in Mon.
Ms. Yin Sa Ning said: “Daw Aung San Suu Kyi always says the words ‘federal democratic country’, but her actions only lead to a dictatorship. “Both her and the military are working to gain power, not for citizenship.”
The Mon Coalition Party appears to have severed the dominance of the National League for Democracy in Mon State, according to preliminary results released on Sunday night.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s treatment of ethnic minorities, especially her refusal to condemn the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, has prompted international governments to withdraw awards and keys to their cities. Her reputation as a human rights symbol shattered last year when she led her nation to defend against genocide allegations at the International Court of Justice.
But at home, where extremist monks are setting a sectarian fire, some at the center of Buddhism see her as a pawn of oil-rich Sheikhs. They worry that a wave of Islam will overwhelm Myanmar with a Buddhist majority, as centuries ago from Afghanistan to Indonesia, even though only about 5% of the country’s population is Muslim.
Perhaps to counter those concerns, the National League for Democracy had no Muslim candidates in 2015. This time, only two. (Both candidates won on Sunday, one ahead of Ms. Ei Thinzar Maung.)
“The government of Aung San Suu Kyi does not protect the country,” said U Raja, a monk participating in the nationalist Buddhist movement. “They are building their power just to show off and have no skills to rule the country.”
Hannah Beech reported from Bangkok and Saw Nang from Yangon, Myanmar.