Voting began Saturday in 19 by-elections in Myanmar, in the first test of the popularity of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy since it formed the government a year ago.
Nine of the contested seats are in the Lower House, three are in the Upper House and the rest are in state and regional assemblies in ethnic minority areas.
Some seats became vacant because the lawmakers were promoted to the Cabinet; some because of deaths and others were never filled in the 2015 general election after security concerns in the area forced the cancellation of voting.
Turnout expected to be low
The contests Saturday have not caused the same excitement or engagement as the 2015 general election, and turnout is expected to be low. The NLD’s campaign has lacked star appeal as election rules prohibit Aung San Suu Kyi herself from campaigning on its behalf. But many voters still came to the polls.
“Even though today is Saturday, it’s not a day off for me,” said San Win. “This is the time I go to work. But no matter what kind of difficulties I face, I take the time to come here to vote.”
The main opposition party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, is hoping that the government’s perceived slow progress since taking power will work to their advantage at the ballot box. The USDP is the military-backed party that held power before Aung San Suu Kyi took office.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s party popular
But even if there has been some disappointment in the slow pace of change under Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, her party remains the first choice among many voters.
“I voted for NLD (National League for Democracy) in the 2015 general election and I voted again now because I like the way the NLD government are working for us and our country. I am so glad,” said Kyaw Htway.
The voting comes at a time of renewed hostilities between some ethnic guerrilla forces and the Myanmar army, especially in Shan state, where a number of the by-elections are taking place. Ethnic parties performed poorly in 2015, but they are hoping that anger at the government will see them make gains.
Around 2 million people are registered to vote Saturday.