YANGON, Myanmar – Voters in Yangon, Myanmar’s former capital and most populated city, cast their ballots on Sunday for the first directly-elected municipal administration of the city.
The municipal government of the city with five million habitants is being elected by universal suffrage, or the right of almost all adults to vote, for the first time in Myanmar’s history.
Some 3.4 million citizens were eligible to vote and elect leaders of Yangon City Development Committee along with members of the 33 municipal communities of the city.
Myanmar nationals of the voting age who have been living in the city for more than a year were eligible to exercise their franchise.
Yangon was Myanmar’s capital until 2005 before the seat of governance shifted to Naypyidaw.
The new capital held its first elections since 1958 five years ago, but only one member of the family was allowed to vote and residential requirements were stricter.
The restrictions reduced the number of voters to some 400,000, out of which only 25 percent voted in the 2014 polls.
In the run up to the Sunday elections, Yangon’s streets were seen full of pre-campaign posters of the candidates from Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, Union Solidarity and Development Party, party of the military junta as well as independent contestants.
Myanmar’s military rulers began a transition towards what one of its powerful generals described as a “disciplined democracy” in 2011 which culminated in NLD’s victory in 2015 polls.
The NLD formed the first elected government in 2016 after five decades of dictatorship during which different military regimes governed the country.
Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has been at the helm as a de facto leader, but the military continues to enjoy considerable power.
The military has control over three ministries and has 25 percent reservation in parliament.
The Suu Kyi government has been criticized internationally for supporting ethnic cleansing of the minority Rohingyas two years ago in the Rakhine state of the country.
The government has also drawn flak over slow pace of economic reforms as the country remains largely focused on ending a myriad of armed conflicts.
The Yangon municipal polls are a barometer of NLD’s popularity at least in the principal city of the country.