A man places his ballot into a box at a polling station in a Yangon constituency where a by-election was being staged on Saturday. (Reuters Photo)
YANGON: Voting opened on Saturday in by-elections to to fill 12 vacant seats in the national legislature, the first parliamentary elections since the government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi formally took power early last year.
Polling stations in the districts where more than 2 million eligible voters live opened at 6am. But voting by mid-morning was light, reflecting a sharp decline in voter interest compared to the general elections in November 2015 when voter turnout was 69%.
The by-elections are being held to fill nine lower house seats and three upper house seats in parliament, which has a total 664 seats — 440 in the lower house and 224 in the upper chamber. A quarter of the seats are constitutionally reserved for the military.
Preliminary results were expected to be known by late Saturday.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won nearly 80% of the available elected seats in the 2015 general elections, or 390. It secured an outright majority of 59% of the seats in parliament, allowing the NLD to form the first genuine civilian government in the country after more than 50 years of military rule.
Ten of the 12 seats being contested on Saturday were held by NLD members, who vacated the seats to join the cabinet, as required by law.
Those seats include the one previously head by Suu Kyi, who vacated it to take the newly created post of state counsellor and de facto leader of the government. She was constitutionally barred from becoming president as her late husband and children are foreign citizens.
Another notable contest is the by-election in Rakhine state, where human rights groups claim persecution of Muslims has continued despite the change of government.
Most early voters said they had voted for the NLD as they continue to support Suu Kyi and her party, despite criticism from many corners of the country over its performance during its first year in office.
Myo Myint, a 52-year-old civil servant who lives in Hlaing township in Yangon, said he had voted for the NLD in the 2015 general election and did so again.
“I believe in the NLD government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” said Myint. “I will always be with the NLD.”
Thin Thin Htwe, a 44-year-old housewife from an industrial area on the outskirts of Yangon who also voted for the NLD, echoed that sentiment, saying she believes in Suu Kyi and that her government eventually would bring prosperity to all.
“It is true that business is bad and jobs are scarce, but the best of having the NLD as our government is that we no longer have to live in fear of the authorities like we did under military rule,,” she said. “I believe the NLD can bring prosperity to us all in time.”
The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, the former ruling party, is the closest rival to NLD in the by-elections, but public opinion polls suggest it is not expected to win any seats.
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