Hundreds of Myanmar citizens line up to vote in Singapore

AP News
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Posted: Oct 18, 2015 1:54 AM
Hundreds of Myanmar citizens line up to vote in Singapore

SINGAPORE (AP) — For a fourth day, hundreds of Myanmar citizens lined up outside their embassy in Singapore on Sunday to cast advance ballots in the country's Nov. 8 parliamentary election.

The large turnout has overwhelmed the embassy staff, prompting officials to extend voting that was supposed to end Sunday by three days.

The election is believed to be the formerly junta-run country's best chance in decades at relatively free and credible polls, and the long lines — and comments from would-be voters — suggested an eagerness to vote and shape the country's future.

"We hope there's very big change," said Than Han, a 26-year-old employee at a manufacturing company who was unable to vote Saturday despite standing line for more than four hours. "Education, living standards, lifestyle. Everything must change," he said, tightly grasping a token that guaranteed him an opportunity to vote later Sunday.

Myanmar began moving from a half-century of military rule toward democracy in 2011 when a nominally civilian government, led by a pro-military party, took office.

Many observers believe Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy will win the most seats in parliament, and could control a majority by forming a coalition with smaller parties. Her party boycotted the most recent nationwide election in 2010, dampening turnout.

Seeking better earning opportunities, thousands of Myanmar nationals have taken up jobs in nearby countries such as Singapore. Still, only a minuscule fraction — around 30,000 overseas workers in 37 nations — have been registered for advance voting, according to Thein Oo, director of the Union Election Commission in Naypyidaw, the capital.

Voting started Thursday in Singapore, and after it became clear that the embassy couldn't process all those in line, voters started lining up in the wee hours of the morning, forming a queue that stretched nearly a kilometer (half-a-mile) and disrupting traffic — unusual in Singapore.

Embassy officials decided Saturday to cap the number of voters at 3,000 daily, issuing tokens to keep that number in check, and announced voting would be extended until Wednesday.

On Sunday, some voters sat on picnic mats, taking pictures and talking to friends. Volunteers who were not associated with the embassy handed out packet noodles, traditional desserts and wet wipes to those in line.

"That's the spirit of Burmese people. We like to help one another out," said Zawmoe, 41, one of the volunteers, who goes by only one name.

There is no official count of the number of Burmese in Singapore. Embassy officials referred an Associated Press reporter to Zawmoe, who confirmed that there were 20,000 registered names on the embassy's list of voters in Singapore.

"We want democracy and improvement. The only way to do that is to vote the correct government to get a democracy," Yin Myint Htut, a 30-year-old nurse said as she waited in line. "I support Aung San Suu Kyi. I trust she is a good leader for our country, with many good qualities."

The general election is to be followed by a presidential election early next year when the army and the elected members of parliament will nominate a total of three candidates, and then all lawmakers will vote for the president. Suu Kyi cannot run for president because the constitution bars anyone whose spouse or children have foreign citizenship, and her late husband was British, as are her two children.