Myanmar election: Aung San Suu Kyi win expected as vote count begins

WORLD

International Desk:

Vote counting is under way in Myanmar following Sunday’s general election, with Aung San Suu Kyi expected to win comfortably.

Millions voted in the election, just the second since military rule ended in 2011.

Ms Suu Kyi won the last election with a landslide victory and entered into a power-sharing agreement with generals who still hold huge power.

The results of the election are not expected until at least Monday.

Late on Sunday thousands of her supporters gathered outside her party’s headquarters waving flags and chanting.

Despite Ms Suu Kyi’s popularity, the Nobel Prize winner and global icon has dramatically fallen from grace internationally for her response to the Rohingya crisis.

Hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingyas fled an army crackdown in 2017 in what the UN described as ethnic cleansing. The army in Myanmar said it was targeting militants.

Observers have questioned the credibility of the election because of the disenfranchisement of virtually all Rohingya. Voting was cancelled in large parts of conflict-hit states including Rakhine, Shan and Kachin – home to many ethnic minorities – as officials cited security concerns.

Ms Suu Kyi, 75, cast her ballot last week when the country held advance voting for the elderly in a bid to protect them against the coronavirus.

The main challenger to her National League for Democracy (NLD) party is the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, which along with 23 other opposition parties had called for the vote to be postponed because of a surge in Covid-19 cases.

But in an October broadcast Ms Suu Kyi said the election was “more important than Covid”. She has urged people to vote as she tries to defend her party’s absolute majority.

Polls opened at 06:00 local time (00:00 GMT) and closed at 16:00 (10:00 GMT), though people still queuing to cast their ballots at that time were allowed to vote.

Why can’t the Rohingya vote?
Myanmar’s minority Rohingya population was stripped of voting rights ahead of the 2015 general election after the temporary documents many held were invalidated.

More than 740,000 have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since the 2017 army crackdown, but several hundred thousand still live in western Rakhine state.

In September the UN human rights investigator to Myanmar said the election would fail to be free and fair because of the disenfranchisement of the mostly Muslim minority.

The Rohingya, who trace back their ancestry in Rakhine for centuries, are described as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.

But the government of Buddhist-majority Myanmar does not recognise the word Rohingya, denies the minority citizenship and derides them as “illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh.

In January the UN’s top court ordered the country to take measures to protect the Rohingya from genocide.

Ms Suu Kyi has rejected the genocide accusations while saying that war crimes may have been committed.

Earlier this year six of at least a dozen Rohingya who applied to run as candidates in the election were barred from standing.