In a nation blighted by strife, rights abuses and curbs on free speech, for one day millions dared to hope for change.
Yangon, Myanmar – Vote counting continued on Tuesday with Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party predicting a landslide victory after decades of often brutal military rule.
The National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Suu Kyi, has won 53 lower house seats in the national parliament out of 62 announced so far.
With predictions of a resounding NLD win, questions are being raised over how Myanmar’s long-ruling generals would handle a possible election defeat.
The military government handed power to a semi-civilian government in 2011, but the army still dominates politics after decades in power. Twenty-five percent of seats in parliament are reserved for the army.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Alexander Lambsdorff, the chief EU election observer, said “95 percent of the ratings” the European delegation received about the voting process were “very good”.
Still, he said, the election cannot be fully called “genuine” when 25 percent of parliament is not contested and automatically reserved for the military.
Election observer Ana Gomes, an EU parliament member from Portugal, said she was “impressed by the calm and peaceful atmosphere” during voting. But she called on Myanmar to amend its constitution to allow the election of all members of parliament.
The country’s first openly contested election in decades on Sunday saw an estimated 80 percent voter turnout.
Yin Yin Htay, 44, a newspaper vendor, expressed happiness over the vote count so far but also concern over the potential reaction from the generals.
“I think the results of the election reflect the real desire of the people in this country,” he told Al Jazeera. “We will wait and see if the military and President Thein Sein will keep their promise to transfer power peacefully, as they have been saying in the newspapers that I sell.”
Initial results showed the NLD winning seats in its stronghold of Yangon, and even in the capital Naypyidaw, where the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) was expected to win.
Political commentator Nathan Maung, founder of Kamayut Online Media in Yangon, described the vote count so far as a “total rejection of the military rule.
“But the battle is not finished yet. It just started. It’s a long way to go,” he told Al Jazeera.
“In the past, the military did not really keep its promise. That’s the problem. So, nobody trust them,” Maung continued.
“The military has only two choices. Talk with the winning party leaders and make a peaceful transition for the future. I hope the current commander-in-chief [of the military] will do it.”
Suu Kyi called for the country to remain “calm, peaceful and stable” as it awaited the outcome of the election.
“There is no official result yet, but the people already know who has won,” she told her supporters outside NLD headquarters.
“It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, but your dignity is important. The winner should show empathy to the losers.”
Voting did not take place in hundreds of villages in provinces where government forces are battling armed ethnic groups.
About 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims – considered illegal immigrants by the government, even though they have lived in Myanmar for generations – were not allowed to vote.
A Washington-based human rights group, United to End Genocide, warned ethnic and religious tension in Myanmar could boil over in the aftermath of the election and lead to violence.
In a statement, the group said the “poisoned atmosphere against Muslims in general [and] the Rohingya in particular will not be cleared with an election”.
Maung Win, a Muslim in Yangon, said he voted for the NLD.
“I think that Aung San Suu Kyi will not only be good to the Muslim community, but also the country as a whole,” he told Al Jazeera.
Neither the opposition nor the military-backed ruling party fielded a single Muslim candidate in Sunday’s vote.
Follow Ted Regencia on Twitter: @tedregencia