Voters in Burma’s first elections in 20 years have cast their ballots amid a barrage of criticism that the balloting was rigged in favour of the ruling military, as well as hope that some change toward democratic reform might nonetheless follow.
The junta did not disclose when the results would be announced, saying only that they could come “in time”.
It was almost certain, however, that through pre-election engineering the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party would emerge victorious despite widespread popular opposition to 48 years of military rule.
The streets of Yangon, Burma’s largest city, were unusually quiet and voter turnout appeared light at many polling stations. Some residents said they were staying home as rumours circulated that bombs would explode.
About 40,000 polling stations across the south-eastern Asian country opened at 6am and closed 10 hours later.
Riot police were deployed at some road junctions, but no soldiers were seen near the balloting sites.
The USDP fielded 1,112 candidates for a total of 1,159 seats in the two-house national parliament and 14 regional parliaments. Its closest rival, the National Unity Party backed by supporters of Burma’s previous military ruler, had 995 candidates.
The largest opposition party, the National Democratic Force, contested just 164 spots.
Election rules were written to benefit the USDP, and hundreds of potential opposition candidates – including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party won a landslide victory in the last elections in 1990 but was barred from taking office – are under house arrest or in prison.
Several parties have complained that voters were strong-armed into voting for the pro-junta party, with some threatened that they would lose their jobs if they did not.