On Sunday, Myanmar voted in a general election seen as a poll on a fledgling democratic government that remains popular at home but has seen its reputation collapse overseas amid politically motivated allegations of genocide.
Leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) is expected to win a second term, following a 2015 landslide that ended more than 50 years of military and military-backed rule.
She has the support of a population that mainly sees her as a heroine of democracy for her struggle against dictatorship. However, her win will likely be narrower than the victory that propelled her to power.
More than 37 million people are registered to vote. Still, fears about COVID-19 may dampen turnout, with Myanmar seeing an average of 1,100 new daily coronavirus cases compared to a handful in early August.
In the biggest city, Yangon, queues formed before polling stations opened, with voters in masks, hair coverings, and face shields waiting in evenly spaced lines as the sun came up.
Sai Kyaw Latt Phyo, 31, said it was his first trip outside his home in three months.
“It is worth the risk,” he said. “We must take the risk in such a crucial situation for our country.”
Chaw Ei Twin, 38, said she was doing her civic duty.
“I gave my vote to a party which can transform the country. I voted for the same party last time,” she said.
Suu Kyi’s defenders say critics are silly to expect a rapid change in Myanmar and are impeding efforts to secure gradual progress.
Among the obstacles to some NLD reform is a constitution that guarantees the military a vital political stake, including controlling several key ministries and a 25% quota of legislative seats, allowing it to refuse constitutional amendments.
Suu Kyi and the army have historically been at odds. Still, tensions have been running high lately, with military chief Min Aung Hlaing in a rare interview criticizing “unacceptable mistakes” in the lead-up to the polls, which the government said risked creating unrest and fear.
Casting his vote in the capital Naypyitaw, Min Aung Hlaing said he backed the party that “can work hand in hand” with the military “to create a better future.”
“I have to accept the result that comes from the people’s wishes,” he said when asked if the army would respect the outcome.