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Aung San Suu Kyi arrived to vote in Yangon amid a large media scrum

Myanmar votes in landmark free election in 25 years

WT24 Desk

Voting has taken place in Myanmar’s general election – the first openly contested poll in 25 years after decades of military rule,BBC  reports.  Voting was brisk, with many people emerging smiling from polling stations.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) is expected to win the most parliamentary seats, although she is barred from the presidency.

The military-backed Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP) has been in power since 2011. Large crowds gathered in Yangon as Ms Suu Kyi arrived to cast her vote.  Wearing her trademark thazin flowers in her hair, she smiled and waved, but left without comment.

Across the country, long queues formed at some polling booths, with reports of people waiting from before dawn. “When I cast my vote I was very excited and so worried that I might do something wrong that my hands were shaking,” said Kay Khine Soe, in Ms Suu Kyi’s Kawhmu constituency.

Voting in Yangon, Wuhan Datong said: “I am 57 years old. I never participated in the previous voting since I had doubts over it. But the election this time is fair. So I have come to vote.” About 30 million people were eligible to vote in the election in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Clear results are not expected until Monday morning.

More than 6,000 candidates from over 90 parties vied to be elected to the 664-seat parliament in the first national elections since a nominally civilian government took power in 2011. However, 25% of seats are reserved for unelected military representatives, who are expected to side with the USDP.

Ms Suu Kyi, a former Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is barred from the presidency as the constitution disqualifies anyone with foreign offspring – her children are British. The NLD must take 67% of all contested seats in order to gain a majority.

On Thursday, she said she would be “above the president” if her party won.  Current President Thein Sein said he would accept the election result. He cast his ballot at a school in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, built in 2005 by the military.

I watched people lining up in the dark long before the polling station opened in the Kyi Myin Daing neighbourhood, which straddles the Yangon River.

As the sky brightened, the queue stretched to the end of this crowded street and around the corner. There were people of all ages: young women in jeans and T-shirts, older men and women in more traditional Burmese longyis, all clutching their pink national identity cards and white voter registration documents.

The one thing nearly all of them have in common is that they have never before had the opportunity to elect a new government. There have been reports of irregularities, intimidation and people being left off official voter lists, but, at this polling station, we saw no problems, with officials calmly explaining the procedure for filling out ballot papers and placing them in the sealed boxes.

Here voting took place in a temporary marquee erected between run-down old apartment blocks. Several young men helped lift an older man in his wheelchair inside to vote. Everyone we spoke to expressed their happiness about this historic moment, and their hope that it would help make theirs a better country.

Hundreds of thousands of people – including minority Rohingya Muslims – were denied voting rights, raising concerns about the fairness of the poll. The BBC’s Jonah Fisher in Yangon says there are no reliable opinion polls in the country, so no-one really knows how the vote is going to play out.

Ahead of the vote, security was stepped up across the country, with some 40,000 police guarding polling stations. Ruled by the junta for nearly half a century, Myanmar has seen economic and political reform in recent years. Ms Suu Kyi has already raised concerns about poll fraud and voting irregularities. In the 1990 election, the NLD won a majority, but the results were largely ignored by the generals. For its part, the government has warned that rapid change could lead to civil unrest.

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