Long Tway village is a long way from anywhere. The nearest city, Taunggyi, is a rough three-hour drive to the west of this small settlement of about 30 households, sitting high in a steep valley amid the vast Shan Hills in eastern Myanmar. In lowland areas of the country and the urban centers, anticipation is rising ahead of elections scheduled for Nov. 8. More than 6,000 candidates have applied to take part in the elections, and campaigning is likely to involve large-scale rallies and poster campaigns. But here in the hills, people have only a vague knowledge of the polls. “No one came here to tell us about the election,” local woman Nan Yon, 44, told ucanews.com recently. She had heard an election was coming, she said, but was surprised to learn that the vote was only months away.
The area is outside of the reach of government services. According to locals, authorities only show up to cut down illegal opium poppies — one of the area’s main crops. They say officials are afraid to come here because of the presence of the Shan State Army, an ethnic armed group, in the area.
“We just know there’s an election this year and we will vote,” Nan Yon said. “The government can’t come here, so we don’t know much about it.”
Across Myanmar’s mountainous periphery, according to locals and observers, many people remain uninformed about their rights as voters. This poses a major challenge to a country inexperienced in holding participatory elections. Many of the country’s Christians live in the ethnic border regions, where the opposition, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, will have to compete with popular ethnic minority parties as well as the ruling military-backed party.