YANGON – Myanmar's ruling National League for Democracy claimed Monday it had won a clear parliamentary majority and would retain power, even though the state election body has named just a few of the winners in Sunday's elections.
The Union Election Commission earlier said full results may take a week. By 8 p.m., it had announced the winners of just nine of Parliament's 642 seats, all nine NLD candidates.
An NLD spokesperson, Monywa Aung Shin, said the party had confirmed it won more than 322 seats — a majority — but the final outcome "would be likely more than" the party's goal of 377 seats.
An NLD victory was widely expected since its leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, is immensely popular. Some had speculated its totals might be cut because of deteriorating relations with ethnic minority-based parties, with whom her party had cooperated in 2015 elections.
The United States and other observers have expressed concern about how the election was conducted, especially the disenfranchisement of the Rohingya minority.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Myanmar's second competitive national election since military rule ended was an important step.
“Nevertheless, we are concerned by the large number of unelected seats constitutionally reserved for the military; the disfranchisement of groups including Rohingya; cancellation of voting in parts of several states and regions; and the disqualification of candidates based on arbitrary application of citizenship and residency requirements, which prevent the realization of a more democratic and civilian government,” Pompeo said in a statement released by the State Department.
The Fortify Rights group said it was concerned about the election's conduct as well as arrests of activists and a crackdown on free expression and assembly.
“A core principle of elections under international law is universal and equal suffrage and that is not what took place yesterday,” Ismail Wolff, regional director of Fortify Rights, said in a statement released Monday. “The international community must unequivocally condemn the disenfranchisement of Rohingya and other ethnic nationalities or risk paving the path for future violations.”
Suu Kyi, 75, has retained the mass appeal built up during her decades of democratic activism while Myanmar was under military rule. Her administration’s record has been mixed at best, with little economic growth and no end to armed strife with ethnic minorities seeking greater autonomy.
Outside of Myanmar, her reputation has been damaged by her failure to defend the rights of the Muslim Rohingya minority, who were targeted in a brutal counterinsurgency campaign by Myanmar’s security forces that sent 740,000 fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh.
But the issue was of little concern to most voters in Myanmar, where the Buddhist majority holds deep-seated prejudice against the Rohingya, many of whom are denied citizenship and civil rights, including the right to vote.
The coronavirus pandemic was a prominent backdrop to the elections, which were held as scheduled even though some parties had urged a postponement. Traditional campaign events like mass rallies were curbed to control the spread of the virus, while Suu Kyi was able to project a strong image of leadership in state media and social media while conducting official government business.
No reliable official figures were available on voter turnout. More than 90 parties contested the election and 37 million people were eligible to cast ballots, including 5 million first-time voters.
Yway Mal, an independent vote counting service, said the NLD had secured 64 seats and its main opponent, the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, had won seven so far.
The People’s Alliance for Credible Elections, one of the biggest poll watching organizations in Myanmar, said that in almost one-third of the polling stations it monitored, a small number of people were unable to cast ballots because their names were not on the voting lists.
But the group described election day voting as peaceful and said no major incidents were recorded.