RANGOON — More than 150 Burmese citizens living and working in Singapore landed in Rangoon on Friday afternoon, less than two days ahead of Burma’s general election, in order to cast ballots in their home constituencies for the historic vote.
All 157 migrant workers disembarked wearing red T-shirts printed with the words “Vote for Change,” as scores of family members and friends from across Burma—many wearing T-shirts or holding banners in support of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD)—gathered at the international arrivals area to greet their loved ones. A “Fly to Vote” campaign was organized to bring the group home for Sunday’s nationwide poll.
Aung Moe Thein, a geology expert who took leave from his job in Singapore to return for the election, said he intended to vote in Rangoon’s North Dagon Township on Nov. 8. The last time he voted was in Burma’s 1990 election, when a sweeping NLD victory was ignored by the then military junta. On Friday, Aung Moe Thein declined to reveal who he voted for then, nor which party would win his favor this year.
A native of Monywa Township in Sagaing Division, 30-year-old nurse Akhaya had no reservations about voicing her support for the NLD. She was one of the fortunate ones to return, she said, with many of her compatriots in Singapore struggling to get together the money to pay for a return ticket or secure leave from their employers.
“My employer had empathy for the workers because they realize how important the election is,” she said.
As a supporter of Burma’s largest opposition party, Akhaya would appear to be comfortably among the majority of Friday’s returnees, whose T-shirts conveyed a notably similar message to that of the NLD’s 2015 campaign slogan. Out of 10 people interviewed by The Irrawaddy upon their arrival, nine said they had “come to vote for the NLD.”
Some are returning out of a genuine desire to cast a vote in-country on election day, while others unsuccessfully attempted to register to vote in advance from Singapore, or did not try at all to sign up for an overseas voting process that has been beset by challenges at several Burmese embassies abroad.
A middle-aged couple, Aung Myo Zaw and Kyi Pyar Myint, returned to Burma for the opportunity to vote for “real change” and “be dutiful” citizens.
“A lot of people were omitted from the voter lists, we really feel sorry for them,” Aung Myo Zaw added.
Aung Kyaw Oo, an employee of a Singaporean construction company who was also an organizers of the “Fly to Vote” group that arrived on Friday, said other Burmese in Singapore would likely arrive under their own travel arrangements, if they had not already touched ground already.
“The right to vote is the highest opportunity for a citizen and an election is the most valuable of things,” he said. “We have been waiting several years to get a ballot. I came back here today because I want to stamp my vote with all my heart.”
The organizer said than 22,000 people had applied to cast advance votes abroad in Singapore, but only 16,500 were able to successfully register. The remaining 5,000-plus voters will need to return to Burma by Nov. 8 to vote on election day, or see their franchise lost.