Myanmar's historic elections will test if democracy gets a footh - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Myanmar's historic elections will test if democracy gets a foothold

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YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar voted Sunday in historic elections that will test whether popular mandate can loosen the military's longstanding grip on power, even if opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party secures a widely-expected victory.

As voting opened at 6 a.m. (2330 GMT Saturday), lines began to form outside polling stations set up in Buddhist temples, schools and government buildings.

"I've am so excited to come to vote. I couldn't sleep the whole night, so I came here early," said Ohnmar, a 38 year-old woman who goes by one name. She was in a line at a polling center in Yangon, where Suu Kyi will also vote.

"My whole family is excited. This is going to be my first experience," she said. "I came to vote because I want change in my country. I think Aung San Suu Kyi will win if this is a real free and fair election."

More than 90 parties are contesting, but the main fight is between the National League for Democracy, led by Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi, and the ruling Union Solidarity Development Party. A host of other parties from ethnic minorities, who form 40 percent of the country's 52 million people, are also running.

Some 30 million people are eligible to vote.

"It's likely to be the first credible election in fact since the 1950s, so this is very, very significant," said Richard Horsey, an independent Myanmar analyst.

The election is seen as Myanmar's best chance in decades to move toward greater democracy if Suu Kyi's party secures the highest number of seats in the bicameral Parliament and gets the mandate to govern. But the NLD starts with a handicap: of the 664 seats in Parliament, 25 percent are reserved for the military.

This means in theory the USDP, with the military's support, need not win an outright majority to control the legislature. To counter that scenario, the NLD would require a huge win.

Winning the election would only be the first step toward full power for Suu Kyi's party. After the polls, the newly elected members and the military appointees will propose three candidates, and elect one as the president. The other two will become vice presidents. That vote won't be held before February.

Suu Kyi cannot run for president because of a constitutional amendment that bars anyone with a foreign spouse or child from holding the top job. Suu Kyi's late husband and sons are British.

Also, the military is guaranteed key ministerial posts — defense, interior and border security. It is not under the government's control and could continue attacks against ethnic groups. But critics are most concerned about the military's constitutional right to retake direct control of government, as well as its direct and indirect control over the country's economy.

Horsey said that given the powers it has, the military will not be too perturbed about allowing transfer of power to the NLD if it wins.

"But that's not to say the relationship between the new administration and the military will necessarily be a strong one. It's very difficult to imagine that anyone will be running the country without having the support of the military," he said.


 

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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