Anti-Muslim sentiment intensify across the majority Buddhist country threatening to disenfranchise minority voters.
Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to win a second term in office when authorities in Myanmar release early election results on Monday.
Sunday’s general election was seen as a referendum on the government led by Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), which remains popular at home but has seen its reputation collapse overseas amid allegations of genocide against the country’s mostly Muslim Rohingya minority.
The Election Commission is expected to announce early official results later on Monday.
In a running tally on its official Facebook page, the NLD said it had won 15 of the 315 seats being contested in the 425-member lower house.
“We believe that we will win, to the extent we can form a government,” NLD spokesman Myo Nyun told the Reuters news agency by telephone.
The election had been peaceful and smooth, he said.
Representatives are also being elected to the upper house with 161 seats up for grabs in the 217-seat chamber.
The military controls a quarter of seats in both houses of parliament under a constitution, which Suu Kyi and her allies want to amend.
The NLD needs 322 seats in total to form a government and is expected to win again but with a smaller margin as new parties emerge and ethnic minority parties gain support in some regions.
Five years ago, in the first election following 50 years of military rule in 2011, the NLD won a landslide victory but was forced by the constitution into an uneasy power-sharing agreement with the armed forces.
In contrast to the wave of optimism that greeted the NLD’s landslide victory in 2015, Myanmar went into this election facing a surging COVID-19 outbreak, economic hardship and escalating ethnic conflicts.
Although Myanmar is seeing an average of 1,100 new coronavirus cases a day – compared with only a handful in early August – concerns about the virus did not appear to keep the nation’s 37 million registered voters away from polling stations.
The Election Commission has yet to release data on turnout but in the biggest city, Yangon, long lines of voters wearing face masks and shields began forming from dawn.
But more than a million people across the country were unable to vote after polls were cancelled in some conflict areas, notably in Rakhine where fighting between the military and the Arakan Army, an armed ethnic Rakhine group, has deepened this year.
In Rakhine state, some people posted protest “can’t vote” selfies on Facebook with their little fingers coloured white — mimicking the purple ink to mark those who have cast their ballots.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim minority confined to camps and villages in the state, most without citizenship, were also unable to vote.
The Democracy and Human Rights Party, a Rohingya party, said in a statement it was “utterly disappointed” that its people had been disenfranchised.
The election commission has said the polls in areas affected by conflict had to be cancelled for safety reasons and that only citizens were entitled to vote.
Most Rohingya are not considered Myanmar citizens but 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.
Myanmar says its security forces were carrying out legitimate operations against Rohingya militants.
The International Court of Justice is now investigating the genocide allegations. In a preliminary measure announced in January, it ordered Myanmar to protect the minority group saying it had “caused irreparable damage to the rights of the Rohingya”.