EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini on Monday welcomed as a “historic milestone on the road to democracy” the weekend elections in Myanmar, which seem set for a victory by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.
Although full results are not likely until Tuesday, the voting was largely peaceful, and the high turnout is thought to favour the NLD – although the military junta has reserved 25% of seats for itself.
Mogherini, in a statement, praised the “calm, peaceful and organised” election in the former British colony, although she cautioned that it would be “critical for all sides to accept the results in a spirit of national unity and reconciliation.”
Early reports on Sunday from the EU monitoring team in Myanmar found little sign of cheating, although a full report from the head of the mission, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, is not due until Tuesday.
Mogherini added: “The impressive turnout on the election day bears testimony to the commitment of Myanmar’s voters to the continued democratisation of the country.
“As a close partner and friend, the European Union is ready to further support Myanmar in its ongoing political transition to democracy, peace, stability and economic development.”
Despite the millions turning out to vote, earlier this week Human Rights Watch warned that Sunday’s election was already “fundamentally flawed.”
Citing the lack of an independent election commission, an obediant state media, the 25% of seats reserved for the military, discriminatory voter registration and “mass disenfranchisement” in some parts of the former British-ruled country, Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, said: “Long lines of voters … won’t make these fundamentally flawed elections free and fair.”
Early indications were of an “80 percent” turnout, according to Union Election Commission deputy director Thant Zin Aung – a figure the opposition believe favours their bid for a majority.
More than 30 million people were eligible to vote in Myanmar’s freest election for a generation.
The NLD believes a fair vote will power it into government after a decades-long struggle against army dictatorship.
But Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi is barred from the presidency by the army-scripted constitution and the NLD faces an uphill struggle because of the quarter of seats reserved for the military.
In the capital Naypyidaw on Sunday, President Thein Sein, a one-time top-ranking junta general, smiled for the cameras and held up his little finger, stained with purple ink, after voting.
His army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is the main obstacle to an NLD victory.
Many voters remain nervous about how the powerful army will react if it loses, with concerns over the fraud that riddled previous elections.
But after casting his vote in the capital, Myanmar’s powerful army chief said his troops would respect the voice of the electorate.
“Just as the winner accepts the result, so should the loser,” Min Aung Hlaing told reporters.
Aspirations for change run high in Myanmar after five decades in which a brutal junta silenced opponents with violence and jail.
But in 2011 the regime suddenly handed power to a semi-civilian government led by former generals.
Sweeping reforms since have loosened the straitjacketed economy and brought many freedoms to an isolated, wearied people.
The 1990 landslide that never happened…
It is the first election the NLD has contested since 1990, when the party claimed a landslide win only to see the army ignore the result and condemn Suu Kyi to spend most of the next 20 years under house arrest.
The 70-year-old is not allowed to be president under a charter that blocks anyone with foreign children from top office – Suu Kyi’s two sons are British.
But on Thursday she declared an NLD win would see her take a position “above the president” — a challenge to the army that has spent 25 years trying to hamper her political ascent.
Suu Kyi has also faced international censure for failing to speak up for the country’s embattled Muslim population – especially the ethnic Rohingya in restive Rakhine state.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been excluded from voting.
To win a majority the NLD needs to secure just over two thirds of the contested seats.
The USDP needs only around a third of seats to join up with the military bloc, which has 25 percent of all parliamentary seats.