International observers in Myanmar are giving qualified approval to Sunday’s historic parliamentary elections, as the vote counting heads into its second full day.
“The process went better than many people expected beforehand,” said Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, head of the European Union’s election observation mission, during a press conference in Yangon Tuesday.
More than 30 million people cast votes in Sunday’s election, the first free elections in the former military-run country in 25 years.
Official results released by the Union Election Commission show the opposition National League for Democracy so far has won 126 seats in the lower house of parliament, while the military-backed ruling Union Solidarity Development Party has won just eight.
Party claims landslide
The NLD, led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has already claimed a landslide victory. In an interview with the BBC Tuesday, Aung San Suu Kyi said her party has won about 75 percent of all contested seats.
"The fact that losing USDP candidates are accepting defeat is ‘encouraging’ for process credibility," Lambsdorff said.
But he also said the vote cannot be called “truly genuine” because all the seats were not contested in the election. Myanmar’s constitution allocates 25 percent of parliamentary seats to the military.
Lambsdorff also expressed concern over the lack of Rohingya Muslims from voting rolls and candidate lists, which he called “part of a larger social issue.” Millions of Rohingya Muslims are disenfranchised in Myanmar for a lack of citizenship and other reasons.
U.S. observer Jason Carter told reporters an “anti-Muslim sentiment” was prevalent in the elections.
Carter led a group of international observers in Myanmar on behalf of the Carter Center, the U.S.-based human rights group founded by his grandfather, former President Jimmy Carter.
Former Ireland President Mary Robinson, a member of the Carter Center team, also lamented the lack of many female candidates.
A spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon congratulated "the broad masses of the people from various walks of life in Myanmar for their patience, dignity and enthusiasm."
Election results delayed
The first results were scheduled to be announced Monday morning, but election officials delayed the announcement until later in the day, without giving a reason.
The Myanmar Times said the NLD has issued a formal complaint to the Union Election Commission over a change in election procedures.
The party said the UEC has instructed local election officials to send election results directly to the commission's offices in the capital Naypyitaw, instead of sending them first to local and state election authorities.
This is the first election in Myanmar, also known as Burma, since the military junta established a nominally civilian government in 2011 after nearly 50 years in power, and a year after Aung San Suu Kyi was freed from house arrest and a ban lifted on her party.
She led the NLD to a landslide victory in the last free nationwide election in 1990, but was prevented by the junta from taking power.
Myanmar political experts said the NLD needs to capture 67 percent of the parliamentary seats in Sunday’s election to overcome the military’s veto in the bicameral legislature, known as the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, which selects the president.
Aung San Suu Kyi is prevented from becoming president even if her party is victorious.
The military junta governing in 2008 placed a clause in the constitution barring anyone with a foreign spouse or children from holding the highest office. Aung San Suu Kyi’s late husband was British, as are her two children.
Despite the ban, she told the BBC that it "won't stop me from making all the decisions as the leader of the winning party."
Nearly 7,000 candidates from 91 parties sought posts in both houses of parliament.
Myanmar, a former British colony, was isolated from most of the world for decades after General Ne Win in 1962 staged a coup, abolishing the Buddhist-majority country’s constitution and its democratic government.