People in Myanmar’s troubled western state are battling a surge in coronavirus in the midst of escalating conflict.
Myanmar’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) has claimed a resounding victory in Sunday’s general election, the second since the military began to withdraw from civilian politics in 2011.
Based on its own unofficial tally of votes, the NLD, which is led by Aung San Suu Kyi, expects to win even more seats in parliament than it did in 2015 when it won a landslide.
NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt told the Reuters news agency on Monday that it had won many more than the 322 seats in parliament needed to form a government, based on data received from party agents at polling stations nationwide. He gave no specific estimate.
“For the people, for the party, this is such an encouraging election result,” he said, adding that the NLD expected to exceed the total of 390 seats it took in its 2015 landslide win.
Sunday’s election was viewed as a referendum on Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD’s fledgling democratic government, which remains popular at home but has seen its overseas reputation battered by accusations of genocide against the mostly Muslim Rohingya minority.
The Election Commission had been expected to release results on Monday but had only published a handful by the evening, as candidates and parties posted their own data online.
Up for grabs were 315 seats in the 425-member lower house and 161 seats in the 217-seat upper house of parliament.
— Cape Diamond (@cape_diamond) November 9, 2020
A spokesman for the second-biggest party, the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), could not immediately be reached for comment.
The European Union and Britain commended Myanmar for the vote but criticised the disenfranchisement of more than a million voters, including hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said while the polls were an important step in Myanmar’s democratic transition, the United States had concerns about the large number of parliamentary seats reserved for the military and the fact that some groups, including the Rohingya, were barred from voting.
He also expressed concern about “the disqualification of candidates based on arbitrary application of citizenship and residency requirements” noting that such measures “prevent the realisation of a more democratic and civilian government”.
The tabulation of votes and resolution of any complaints should be undertaken “in a transparent and credible manner,” he added.
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The military, which ruled Myanmar for nearly 50 years until it began withdrawing from civilian politics in 2011, controls a quarter of seats in both houses of parliament under a constitution it devised and which Suu Kyi wants to amend.
The NLD had been expected to win but with a smaller margin following the emergence of new parties and ethnic minority parties gaining support in some regions.
Political analyst Yan Myo Thein said early results showed ethnic parties had won some seats in Kayah, Mon and Shan states, where many people harbour grievances against the central government, but the overall picture indicated another NLD landslide.
The results, he said, “show that the majority of people don’t want … the involvement of the military in politics and the majority of people still continue to recognise and support Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the NLD, as their leader.”
In contrast to the wave of optimism that greeted the NLD’s 2015 win, Myanmar held this election amid a surging outbreak of COVID-19, economic hardship and escalating ethnic conflicts.
In Rakhine state, where the remaining Rohingya are confined to camps and villages and mostly denied the vote because they are not citizens, the vast majority of polling stations were closed because of escalating fighting between government troops and ethnic armed groups.
Myo Kyaw, general secretary of the Arakan League for Democracy (ALD), said the Rakhine nationalist Arakan National Party (ANP) had won most of the seats in the state that were contested.
The Democracy and Human Rights Party, a Rohingya party, said it was “utterly disappointed” that its people had been disenfranchised.
The government does not consider most Rohingya Myanmar citizens but instead deems them migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, even though many can trace their family roots back many generations.
The United Nations has said there was genocidal intent in a 2017 army crackdown that forced 730,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh and is now the subject of an investigation at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Myanmar says its security forces were carrying out legitimate operations against Rohingya militants.