Myanmar Election Results: First ‘Free’ Elections in 25 Years, 30 Million Expected At Polls

Voters in Myanmar head to the polls Sunday for the first free election since 1990 — an election whose results will be closely monitored by governments around the world looking to see if the Southeast Asian country of more than 50 million can make a believable transition to democracy, or at least some form of democracy, after a half-century of military rule.

About 30 million Myanmar voters are expected to take part in the potentially historic November 8, 2015, election, which most experts expect will be dominated by the National League for Democracy, the main opposition party headed by former 15-year political prisoner and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

But in just one piece of evidence that the Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) elections Sunday are more “free-ish” than actually free, the 70-year-old Suu Kyi is banned from assuming the office of president, even if her NLD party wins the majority of seats in the country’s Hluttaw, or parliament.

Myanmar Election Results 2015 Aung San Suu Kyi
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi (Photo By Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

A provision of the current Myanmar constitution, which was drawn up by the ruling military junta, bars any citizen with a child who “owes allegiance to a foreign power” from holding the office of president.

In what is certainly no coincidence, Suu Kyi has two sons who were both born in England and hold British passports, making the popular opposition leader known in Myanmar as “Mother Suu,” ineligible to become president.

Her sons and husband still live abroad, and during her 15 years of house arrest at her home in the Myanmar capital city of Yangon, the military government offered to let Suu Kyi leave Myanmar to be with them — on the condition that she spend the rest of her life in exile, never setting foot in her homeland again.

She refused.

Undaunted by the constitutional ban, Suu Kyi declared earlier this week that she considers herself “above the president” and vowed to exercise power anyway, through a proxy — but who that figurehead president will be remains a significant mystery, even as voters cast their ballots Sunday morning.

During the last supposedly free elections in 1990, Suu Kyi’s NLD won a significant majority, only to see the military rulers simply declare the election results void.

This time, current Myanmar president, Thein Sein, has vowed that the military and the government of his ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party will abide by the results of Sunday’s election.

“I heard that there are worries whether the outcome of the election would be respected. Our government and the military want to repeat that we will respect the outcomes of the free and fair election,” the president said in a nationally televised address on Friday. “According to the outcome of the election, we will work together in the new political arena.”

Myanmar President Thein Sein (Photo By Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

But that doesn’t mean that the Myanmar military is simply slipping quietly out of the country’s political scene. Only 75 percent of the seats on parliament will actually be contested in Sunday’s election. No matter the results, one of every four seats remains reserved for an appointed member of the military.

Those military legislators are not only unaccountable to Myanmar voters, they will hold veto power over any proposed changes to the country’s constitution as well.

And, in perhaps the most egregious breach of full democracy, the nation’s one million Rohingya people — members of a severely oppressed ethnic minority that is predominantly Muslim in the Buddhist-dominated Myanmar — have been banned from voting at all.

Even before polls opened at 6 a.m. Myanmar time — 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, United States Eastern Time — Suu Kyi and the NLD were already claiming reports of voting irregularities, especally in advance, absentee balloting by Myanmar workers overseas in Singapore, South Korea, and elsewhere.

Nonetheless, the 2015 Myanmar elections are seen by experts as a positive step on the country’s course toward genuine democracy, even if Myanmar is not quite there yet.

For full Myanmar election results as they become available, visit the Myanmar Elections Data Reporting online site at this link. The Qatar-based news agency Al Jazeera will also post results of the Myanmar elections at this link.

[Featured Photo By Paula Bronstein / Getty Images]

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