Myanmar votes after 20 years amidst poll boycott call by Opposition party of Aung San Sui Kyi

Naypyidaw (Myanmar), Nov.7 (ANI): People in Myanmar on Sunday exercised their franchise in its first ever election held in last 20 years, though a low turnout of voters was witnessed.

Over 29 million people were eligible to vote but it was uncertain how many would actually cast ballots.

Many voters heeded opposition calls to boycott an election in which two military-backed parties running virtually unopposed were certain to prevail in a tightly controlled election to end 50 years of direct army rule. Barack Obama criticised the vote as "anything but free and fair", the Guardian reported.

The banned opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, which won the 1990 vote, called on supporters to boycott the poll.

It is expected that the junta's political arm, the Union Solidarity and Development party, supported by its proxy party, the National Unity party whose candidates are mainly retired generals, will win comfortably, through sheer weight of numbers, the report added.

Security was tight with armed police patrolling the streets of the main city Yangon.

Shops in the capital Naypyidaw were ordered to close on Friday night and not reopen until after the vote.

In many constituencies the poll is a two-horse race between the USDP and the National Unity Party (NUP), which is the successor to late dictator Ne Win's party and is also closely aligned with the military.

A quarter of the seats in the two-chamber national parliament and regional legislatures are reserved for military appointees whatever the outcome.

Two opposition parties have accused the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) formed by ministers who retired from the military in April of illegally collecting advance ballots by coercion.

Incidents of voter intimidation were also reported by the Chin Human Rights Organisation, which said that in a ward in Chin State in western Myanmar one of the polling stations was at an army checkpoint.

The generals were also feared to be intentionally blocking access to information. Internet users in the secretive country have reported slow connections and frequent outages for more than a week.

It maybe noted that the junta has refused to allow international monitors or foreign media into the country for the election and local journalists face strict restrictions on visiting polling stations unless on an official tour.

It is unclear when the results will be announced.

Meanwhile, Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi remained locked up and two pro-military parties are together fielding about two-thirds of the total candidates, leaving the splintered opposition with little chance of success.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi swept her party to power in 1990 but the result was never recognised by the ruling generals. She has been detained for most of the past 20 years and is supporting a boycott of Sunday's election.

As voting got underway, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the flawed elections "expose the abuses of the military junta".

Democratic Party chairman Thu Wai told on Friday that his party was "deeply concerned" about reports of voter intimidation across the country and had filed an official complaint.

"We have learnt that the USDP together with ward authorities are trying to get advance votes by cheating, bribing or threatening people," the party wrote in a letter to the country's election commission. (ANI)

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