11/11/2015, 00.00
MYANMAR
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For the first time, we have freedom to vote and hopes for democracy in Myanmar, says Catholic leader

by Francis Khoo Thwe
Former Youth Commission and election monitor team member leader Bosco Sawthuya tells AsiaNews that he was "surprised" by the vote. Although people are happy, it is too soon to know whether the election was free and fair. NLD calls for calm, restraint and avoid dressing in party red.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - "Not only as a voter, but also an observer, I am really surprised by how the Electoral Commission has organised the vote,” said Sawthuya Bosco, former president of the National Catholic Youth Commission (NCYC), now a member of the National Youth Congress Election Observation Team, which monitored last Monday’s election.

“For us, this is the first time we can really touch freedom to vote and our right to have the results we want,” he told AsiaNews. "At the moment,” he added, “it is still too early to know whether and how free and fair the election was, because we are still studying the data. There is still work to do, and we still need some time for the final announcement.”

Burmese Catholics played an "active role" in the electoral process, Bosco Sawthuya explained, by organising pre-election meetings and echoing the messages and calls by Card Charles Bo and the country’s bishops.

The Catholic leader noted that "people were happy to be free to vote”. Now they are waiting “to see the result they dreamt for, for a long time."

“My wish and my hope,” he added, "is that of all the people [of Myanmar], namely a future of democracy in the years ahead. We are ready to cooperate with the new government, if they bring to the country a real wave of democracy."

With about 40 per cent of seats declared, the National League for Democracy (NLD) has taken nearly 90 per cent of the vote. In light of the results, outgoing Myanmar President Thein Sein has already congratulated Aung San Suu Kyi and her opposition party for its success.

Ms Suu Kyi has written to the country’s current leaders, requesting talks on national reconciliation. However, Information Minister U Ye Htut said such a meeting could only take place after final results are announced.

The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which has been in power in Myanmar since 2010, has so far taken 10 of the 491 seats contested in both houses of parliament. A quarter of the 664 parliamentary seats are set aside for the army.

The NLD has so far won 211 seats (out of 232 counted), including Aung San Suu Kyi who won in the Kawhmu electoral district. To win an outright majority to elect the next president, the NLD needs 329 seats.

Although ballot counting is slow, the Government said there was no attempt to “fix” the results and that it would respect the outcome of the election.

Meanwhile, Nobel Peace prize laureate and NLD leader Aung San Ms Suu Kyi, who continues to keep a low profile despite her party’s overwhelming victory, has urged her supporters to avoid street parties or premature claims of victory.

In the streets of Yangon and Myanmar’s other main cities, an apparent calm prevails despite the fact that everyone is waiting for election results. In fact, most people are happy with the vote, but fear a possible military coup. The Armed Forces showed little enthusiasm for early election results.

Outside of the cities, people are also waiting for the official announcement of an NLD victory. Many voters remain watchful for possible fraud, especially in the Irrawaddy Delta.

The situation is thus tense – all eyes on the Election Commission for the official announcement of the results.

Among the opposition, many are trying to avoid gloating over the victory. On social media, many are also advising caution. Ms Suu Kyi too has also called for restraint and no celebration. Everyone remembers the recent arrest of students who posted criticism online.

Among the many rumours circulating, one tells people to avoid wearing red, the NLD’s party colour.

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