On Sunday, more than 30 million voters across Myanmar can cast their ballots in the country’s first relatively free elections in 25 years. The nationwide vote is a milestone in the Southeast Asian nation’s transformation from isolated military dictatorship to a more open society, seeking to attract foreign investment and tourists. Moreover, it will be a crucial test of the popularity of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate and democracy icon who is believed to be the country’s most popular politician. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who was held under house arrest for 15 years during military rule, hopes a strong victory at the polls could finally give her party political power even though she is barred from becoming president. Here is a brief guide to some of the ins and outs of the election.
In the last national election, in May 1990, voters’ overwhelming preference for the National League for Democracy, the opposition party led by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, was followed by a brutal crackdown and two decades of harsh military rule. Now, her party is running against representatives of the former military junta.
The military-aligned party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party led by President Thein Sein, has campaigned on its record of running the government the last five years and a promise to guarantee stability. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s campaign has centered on strengthening the rule of law.
The new government will inherit immense problems: sectarian violence, fighting with ethnic militias, rampant cronyism and corruption, and inadequate infrastructure and financial institutions to attract foreign investment. Some parts of the country are controlled by ethnic militias, and several of Myanmar’s leading exports, including jade, opium and timber, have been tied to conflict, crime and corruption.