Voters line up to cast their ballots at a polling station in a Buddhist hall in Mandalay on Nov .8. (Photo: UCA News)
Millions of people were heading to the polls on Nov. 8 to cast their ballots in Myanmar’s general election, with Aung San Suu Kyi’s party tipped to win a second term.
By 5am, people wearing masks and face shields were standing in before a polling station in Mandalay waiting for it to open at 6am.
Archbishop Marco Tin Win of Mandalay called on Catholics not to fail to cast their ballots as it is an important day for the country.
“I do urge you to give a vote no matter how long you have to wait or tiredness as you need to give your time on this special day for the country,” Archbishop Tin Win said during Sunday Mass on Nov. 8.
The bishop prayed that the election will lead to durable peace and development based on justice.
Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon has previously urged people to fulfill a sacred duty of voting and choose candidates who work for peace, political and economic federalism.
More than 37 million out of Myanmar’s 54 million people are eligible to vote including 5 million first-time voters in an election where more than 90 parties are vying for 1,171 seats in the upper and lower houses of the national parliament and in state and regional legislatures.
Election fever has risen in the Bamar-dominated areas including Mandalay, Magwe, Ayeyarwaddy amid Covid-19 restrictions.
Observers see the election as a test of Myanmar’s democratic reforms as the country is in a transition to democracy after emerging from five decades of military rule.
Suu Kyi, whom most people in Myanmar call “Mother Suu”, remains popular among the country’s seven regions where the majority Bamar are based and her National League for Democracy (NLD) is expected to win again after its 2015 triumph.
However, her popularity has waned in minority ethnic areas including Christian stronghold Kachin state as the NLD-led government has failed to live to its 2015 election campaign promises about peace, rule of law and amending the military-drafted constitution.
Fighting between Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army remains intense in Rakhine and neighboring Chin state.
United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres expressed concern that armed conflict was “continuing to take a heavy toll on vulnerable civilians.”
“The vote would help advance inclusive sustainable development across the country,” Guterres said on Nov. 6.
He has called for a peaceful orderly and credible election process as it might lead to refugee returns in safety and dignity.
Suu Kyi’s government and the military have faced legal pressure over atrocities against Rohingya Muslims following the crackdown that led to more than 700,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh where they remain in squalid camps.
International rights groups said the election is flawed and a sham as millions of people were disenfranchised, including Rohingya and Rakhine, and there was a lack of consultation over the cancellation of polls in Rakhine, Kachin, Karen, Shan and Bago regions.