Election kicks off in Myanmar amid balloting concerns

YANGON — Voting kicked off Sunday in what has been dubbed Myanmar’s “freest and fairest” election in decades although the process has been plagued by many complaints.

Myanmar voters began voting at 6 am at 40,000 polling stations nationwide where some 33.5 million people are eligible to cast their ballots.

There are 6,039 candidates from 91 political parties, with 313 independents, contesting 168 seats in the Upper House, 330 in the Lower House and 673 in state and regional assemblies. Military appointees hold 25 percent of the seats all parliaments in Myanmar.   

The main contenders are the current government’s Union Solidarity and Development Party and the main opposition National League for Democracy party led by Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Union Election Commission, the theoretically independent body responsible for organizing the polls, has been criticized for creating confusing voting lists, duplicating ballots, less-than-transparent advance voting and the disarray of overseas voting.

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On Saturday night the NLD issued two statements warning voters of duplicated ballots and overcrowded polling stations.
         
“Even the UEC has confessed it,” said the statement. “If you get duplicated ballots, you need to inform the related candidates.”

It warned that some polling stations with too many eligible voters might not have time to complete their balloting by 4 pm, when voting ceases.

“So, it is impossible for every eligible voter to vote on time but according to the election rules, the voters who arrive in the area of polling stations in time can vote even after 4 pm. So please don’t go back even if the station is crowded and you can’t vote in time,” the NLD said.

The NLD is widely slated to win this year’s polls, based on the popularity of its leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and its strong anti-military credentials. The party won 82 percent of the seats in the 1990 general election, after which it was blocked from assuming power by the ruling junta.

The NLD boycotted the 2010 polls, which was then won by the pro-military USDP. In the 2012 by-election it won 43 out of 44 seats it contested after rejoining the political process.   

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