Voting in general elections is underway in Myanmar on Sunday amid COVID-19 measures.
A total of 5,643 candidates are contesting 1,171 national, state and regional seats up for grabs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) is largely expected to win the polls. The NLD won 2015 elections by a landslide.
More than 37 million voters from a population of 56 million will decide the fate of candidates representing more than 90 parties.
Observing mask and social distancing rules, voters are casting their ballots at around 50,000 polling stations.
It is second general election since the end of nearly 50 years of military rule in 2011.
Polls are being held in the backdrop of concerns about oppression of opposition parties and the disenfranchisement of minorities, including the persecuted Rohingya community.
Myanmar’s bicameral parliament, Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, is divided into the Amyotha Hluttaw, the 224-member House of Nationalities or upper house – and the Pyithu Hluttaw, the lower House of Representatives with 440 seats.
The Buddhist-majority country’s powerful military is allocated 25% unelected parliament seats. It controls key ministries including interior affairs and has veto power on constitutional issues.
There are regional legislative assemblies and governments in each of the seven states and seven regions of the country.
The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is the main opposition to Suu Kyi’s NLD.
During the run-up to elections, Myanmar faced severe criticism for oppressing opposition, including journalists, student protestors and denying voting rights to Rohingya.
Myanmar is also facing a case of genocide against the mostly Muslim Rohingya community at the International Court of Justice.
More than 740,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar into neighboring Bangladesh in 2016 and 2017 as the military waged a campaign of violence in Rakhine state.
Rohingya survivors have recounted harrowing atrocities including gang rapes, mass killings, torture, and widespread destruction of property at the hands of the army.
Myanmar has reported 60,348 coronavirus cases including 1,396 deaths.
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