Polling places appeared nearly empty around Yangon on Sunday as the rest of the city went about its business in the first election in this closed and tightly controlled nation in 20 years.
The process was expected to cement military rule behind a civilian facade but also to open the door slightly to possible shifts in the dynamics of power.
“It was an empty room,” said one voter who emerged from a polling place where he said he had spoiled his ballot in protest, here in the country’s commercial capital.
Though the Constitution guarantees the military a leading role in the state apparatus, this will be the first civilian government in the former Burma since a military coup in 1962. With votes being tabulated locally, it was not known if results would be announced Sunday or later.
The appearance of electoral legitimacy and civilian institutions may make it easier for Myanmar’s neighbours to embrace what has been a pariah, but it was unlikely by itself to ease a policy of isolation and economic sanctions among Western nations.
Both President Barak Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the election Sunday.
Speaking in Mumbai, India, the President said: “There are elections that are being held right now in Burma that will be anything but free and fair, based on every report that we are seeing. “ He added, “For too long the people of Burma have been denied the right to determine their own destiny. “
Clinton, speaking in Melbourne, Australia, said: “You look at Burma holding flawed elections today that once again expose the abuses of the military junta.” In an hour’s tour of Yangon Sunday morning, there was very little sign on the streets or at polling places of a police or military presence.
Half a dozen voting centres appeared almost empty and a resident of the country’s second city, Mandalay, said voting was light there as well.
“None of my friends or family voted,” said a shopkeeper. “Aung Sang Suu Kyi is number one.”
He was referring to the detained pro-democracy leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party was not contesting the election and had called for a boycott.
Voters were electing a 665-member, two-chamber national Parliament and 14 regional Parliaments. A total of 25 percent of those seats will be reserved for the military, and several senior military officials have resigned to run as civilians.