Yay Tar Shay Village, Myanmar – Of the 55.7 million population in Myanmar, an estimated 70 percent live in rural areas, many working in the agricultural sector.
As the country heads to the polls on Sunday, eligible voters – from the betel leaf farmers of Shwedah to the fishermen on the Ayeyarwady coast – will have equal say with top executives in Yangon, to determine which party should lead them.
Myanmar has a poverty rate of 26 percent, according to the UN, and the rate is twice as high in rural areas. Access to electricity in the country is also limited to 26 percent of the population, the global body says.
At stake in the election is the control of the two houses of parliament.
Reports predict a victory for the opposition National League of Democracy (NLD) of Aung San Suu Kyi, but no one is discounting the organisational structure of the military-linked ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Regional parties are also attracting ethnic voters.
Amid allegations of election-related irregularities by Suu Kyi’s party, President Thein Sein delivered a speech that aired on TV on Friday, vowing that the government and the army “will respect” the outcome of the polls.
The president also urged eligible voters to cast their ballot. But some rural voters complained they could not even find their names in the official voter roll.
Al Jazeera talks to some of the voters to gauge their feelings ahead of the November 8 election.
Nay Myo Aung, 20, cow herder
My name is Nay Myo Aung. I’m single. I am an eligible voter, and I am supporting the NLD of Aung San Suu Kyi. I think that her party will bring change to the country. I’m a simple farmer and I am not very aware of all the issues being debated. But I just hope that the country will get better and that it will be able to deliver the basic needs of the people.
Hla Cho Win, 44, housewife and farmer
I’m Hla Cho Win. I’m a housewife. This is my garden. I grow eggplants and sell them at the market. We also have a plot to grow sugarcane. I like President Thein Sein, and I want him to continue his work. So I am supporting the USDP. But whoever becomes president, I want to see our country develop economically. Until now, we still don’t have electricity at home. I know that whoever will be in power, I still need to struggle personally in order to provide the needs of my family.
Aung Zaw Tun, 31, betel leaf farmer
I’m Aung Zaw Tun and I’m 31 years old. I work as a betel leaf farmer. I’m frustrated because my name is not on the voter list. I have already presented my national card as a proof my identity, and still, I could not get registered. My parents got their voter’s slips to vote on Sunday, but why not me? Is it because I am voting for the NLD? Many people in my community are supporting the USDP. Maybe they don’t want me to vote. I think that if the NLD wins, our country will get better. Hopefully, they will help improve betel farming in our country. I also hope that there is no more corruption in government.
U Win Myint, 53, coconut and betel leaf farmer
I’m U Win Myint. I’ve been a coconut and betel leaf farmer for a long time. I don’t really earn that much from farming. But I hope that Myanmar gets better and that our family’s economic situation will improve. Right now, my income only supports our basic needs. As a father, I want to earn more so I can support my children’s education. Our leaders should put more importance on education. I’m supporting the ruling USDP.
U Tun Thein, 62, jasmine flower farmer
I’m U Thun Thein. I’m a jasmine flower farmer. I also have some eggplants in my garden. I’m still thinking about who to vote. I want to vote for the person who can help develop our country economically. But then I’m not really sure if they will really deliver on their promises.
Ei Po Po Zin, 21, jobless housewife
My name is Ei Po Po Zin. This is my six-month-old first born. Right now I am not working because I have to take care of my baby. I’m supporting the NLD because that’s the party my husband is voting for. I’m not really sure what they can do, but I hope that they will improve the roads in our village and deliver some basic needs, like healthcare for my child.