Voters in Burma’s major cities waited patiently, some more than an hour before polling stations opened on Sunday morning at 6 am, to cast their ballots in a general election many hope will be the country’s freest and fairest in a quarter century.
By 5:30 am in Rangoon’s leafy Golden Valley neighborhood, several dozen people had arrived at a primary school converted into a polling station.
“I am here today to cast my vote as I believe the election this time will bring change for us,” said Bo Lwin, a 58-year-old who added that he had twice in his life previously cast a vote.
“But they [those elections] failed to fulfill our hopes. Now this one could be a special one and it could bring change,” he said.
For others like Yin Yin Aye, who was among those who had arriving before the polling station in Bahan opened, the experience of casting a ballot is a new one.
“I feel excited, as for me this is the first time [voting] in my life,” she told The Irrawaddy.
Some 400 miles north of where Yin Yin Aye was speaking, Win Mya waited patiently in front of a polling station in Mandalay’s Maha Aung Myae quarter.
Hundreds of people were waiting outside the station in Burma’s second largest city, some as early as 5 am. Win Mya was one of them.
“I am here as I want to be a dutiful citizen,” the 50-year old said.
In Burma’s capital Naypyidaw, Thura Win, a resident of Zabuthiri Township, told The Irrawaddy that he had come early to cast his vote because Sunday marked an important “an important day for the country.”
About 200-300 people were waiting in front of the polling station compound since before the station gate opened.
Thura Win brought his children along for the historic day.
“I want them to experience this,” he said.
Zabuthiri is home to many civil servants’ quarters and police battalions. At high school No. 5, two polling stations have prepared to take in some 4,400 eligible voters, including President Thein Sein and his family.
The president had not arrived as of 8:00 am.
In Moulmein, the capital of Southeast Burma’s Mon State, Hla Win Aung was the lone voter waiting for the polling station to open in the city’s Phat Than quarter.
He told The Irrawaddy that he intended to vote straight ticket for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), and would return later to accompany his wife, who is blind, as she exercised her franchise.
The NLD and ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) are Sunday’s biggest electoral contenders, though more than 90 political parties in total are fielding candidates in the nationwide poll.
Maung Maung, who owns a clothing store in the neighborhood, arrived later with his four family members, all of whom, he said, intended to vote for the NLD.
Many voters here were less willing to share their party preference, however, with many saying they thought they were not allowed to disclose who they intended to vote for.
Polling stations close at 4 pm on Sunday.
Reporting from Kyaw Phyo Tha in Rangoon, Zarni Mann in Mandalay Nyein Nyein in Naypyidaw and Yen Snaing in Moulmein.