Photos of First-Time Voters at Myanmar's Historic Election

As early results point to Aung San Suu Kyi's party taking victory in Myanmar, here's what the election looked like on the ground.

by Alicia Field
Nov 10 2015, 8:15pm

"We must cautiously walk forward," were Aung San Suu Kyi's words to supporters as they gathered outside the National League for Democracy (NLD) headquarters in Yangon, the day after Myanmar's historic election vote. It was the first free election since the nominally civilian government was introduced in 2011, ending nearly 50 years of military rule. "Real victory must be for the country, not for a group or individuals," she said.

All eyes have been on whether or not NLD leader Suu Kyi can mark decades of democratic protest with a remarkable election victory against the ruling party, Union of Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Early indications suggest that the NLD has indeed won a parliamentary majority, although final official results will not be known for days.

Suu Kyi has long represented a symbol of hope for the country, commanding by force of will an extraordinary amount of power as leader of the opposition. Although she is barred from becoming president after this election (due to her children being foreign nationals), she has vowed to lead the government anyway, positioning herself "above the president."

The voting on Sunday, monitored by local and international observers, appeared to reflect a clear and peaceful process. Across polling stations in central Yangon, a diverse and multiethnic population came out to cast their ballots, patiently queuing at polling stations from 6 AM onwards. There was a sense of concealed excitement, with people showing a desire to be photographed but often hesitant in revealing their face. One voter exclaimed that he was excited and hopeful of change, but also that he should "just keep quiet, must keep quiet."

As Aung San Suu Kyi kissed her ballot paper before placing it into the box, it was clear that emotion was the driving force behind many people's votes. Over the course of the campaign, little policy has been announced by the party. Instead, it is the NLD's simple message of change that has clearly struck at the hearts of the majority.

"Everyone knows that our people need change. I need change, everyone needs change, so I voted NLD," said first-time voter Winnie Ja, 28. She claimed that her choice was one of concern for the country, but specifically for women and the younger generations in Myanmar, who she claims are often forgotten and disregarded by the current government.

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Excitement at the prospect of change comes hand in hand with both caution and unease. Even after the election results are officially announced, the USDP will remain in power over the coming months, which will mean a period of delicate negotiations between elected parties and the army until the end of March, 2016.

As Aung San Suu Kyi stated, it is too early to celebrate a victory yet. There is no precedent for what will happen next for Myanmar, and this election was only the start of a move towards democracy. The NLD's message of change is one that has inspired the nation as they hopefully take a defining step in their country's reform process.

See photos of some of the first-time voters below.