Voters across Myanmar formed long lines Sunday to take part in an election pitting the army-backed establishment against an opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi, in the country’s first fully contested polls in 25 years.
Polls opened at 6 am (2330 Saturday GMT), with voters queueing up since before dawn in some constituencies, forming lines hundreds of metres long.
By noon, lines were still visible at polling stations downtown in the commercial capital Yangon, with voters employing umbrellas and fans to shield themselves against the midday sun.
Observers and rights groups did not report any discrepancies in the voting process.
“So far voting has been orderly and smooth,” said Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, chief observer of the EU mission.
“There have been no systematic problems – no evidence of large-scale fraud – so far in the electoral process,” said Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.
“Not much will happen under the spotlight of international observers and large media interest,” he added.
Final election results were not due for several weeks and a new government will not be in place until March.
On Sunday, opposition leader Suu Kyi – who has expressed concern over the long gap between the polls and the new government – cast her ballot in a school building near her home in Yangon, in front of crowds of supporters and hundreds of foreign journalists.
Her National League for Democracy (NLD) party is hoping to win enough seats to overturn decades of military or military-backed rule, but would require over two-thirds of the contested seats to win a parliamentary majority.
The last time the NLD contested elections, in 1990, it won a landslide victory that was later disqualified by the military. The party boycotted the last polls in 2010.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi arrived at the polling station in Yangon wearing red – her party’s colour – to the cheers and cries of supporters, and flanked by bodyguards.
“I hope she fights corruption if her party wins the election,” said Win Htein, a recently retired father of four, after watching Suu Kyi pass through.
Even though she is constitutionally barred from becoming president, the country’s top post, Suu Kyi said earlier in the week that she would “run the government” if her party wins.
Suu Kyi continued on to her constituency after casting her vote, meeting with more supporters.
Local television showed incumbent President Thein Sein of the ruling army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) arriving to vote at a polling station in Naypyidaw, the country’s administrative capital.
The USDP has ruled the country for the last five years, and has campaigned on a message of continuity and stability.
With many former army figures among its leadership, the USDP has argued that only it can tread the path to democracy under the watch of a distrusting military.
“We must lead the country at least five more years so that the transition process stays peaceful,” said Hla Swe, a former army officer and a sitting member of parliament for the USDP.