Myanmar’s biggest city has gone to the polls for the first municipal elections in six decades but under severe voting restrictions and limited power of the councillors being elected.
Elections in Yangon city on Saturday were closely watched as a test of the country’s democratic credentials ahead of a landmark nationwide poll scheduled for November next year.
For many, the ballot for the Yangon City Development Committee was the first chance to vote under the country’s quasi-civilian government, which replaced outright military rule in 2011.
It was also a rare opportunity to have a say over the future of the country’s commercial hub, where residents complain about runaway construction and soaring rents, worsening traffic, poor sanitation and weak pollution control.
“It’s very difficult to have big expectations as this is the first YCDC election for 60 years,” 50-year-old Khin Maung Tun, a resident in Thaketa township, told the AFP news agency. “But we came here to vote and show our spirit”.
Ahead of the vote, critics said the poll was deeply flawed. Voting has been limited to one person per household, while narrow age restrictions for candidates together with a ban on political parties taking part is viewed as deeply problematic.
These restrictions meant just 400,000 of the city’s several million residents were eligible to vote.
Despite the historic nature of the vote, local media said turnout was low, although there were no official figures immediately available.
Just under 300 candidates, including businessmen, retired civil servants and activists, are competing for 115 positions on the committee, although the top posts will remain largely appointed.
Campaigns were muted or, in some cases, even non-existent in a country where politicians are unused to wooing voters, but election officials said the ballot would be transparent, free and fair.
Despite a lack of knowledge surrounding the candidates’ policies however, many residents appeared determined to vote after years of repression under military rule.
“I do not know anything about candidates. I just found out their names while voting,” said Phone Maw Lynn, a resident in Sanchaung township.