8 Nov 2015

Myanmar votes in landmark election

9:58 pm on 8 November 2015

Voting is under way in Myanmar's general election - the first openly contested poll in 25 years after decades of military rule.

The ruling Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP), backed by the military, is one of the frontrunners.

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) is expected to make large gains, though she is barred from running for the presidency.

Large crowds gathered in Yangon as Ms Suu Kyi arrived to cast her vote.

"I will accept the new government formed, based on the election result," current President Thein Sein said on Friday.

About 30 million people are eligible to vote in the election in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Clear results are not expected until Monday morning (afternoon NZ time).

More than 6000 candidates from over 90 parties were vying to be elected to the 664-seat parliament in the first national elections since a nominally civilian government took power in 2011.

However, 25 percent of seats were reserved for unelected military representatives, who were expected to side with the USDP.

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and head of the National League for Democracy (NLD) speaks at a press conference from her residential compound in Yangon

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaking at a press conference ahead of the election Photo: AFP

Ms Suu Kyi, a former Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was barred from the presidency as the constitution disqualifies anyone with foreign offspring.

On Thursday, she said she would be "above the president" if her party won. The NLD must take 67 percent of all contested seats in order to gain a majority.

Hundreds of thousands of people - including minority Rohingya Muslims - have been denied voting rights, raising concerns about the fairness of the poll.

BBC's Jonah Fisher in Yangon said there were no reliable opinion polls in the country, so no-one really knew how the vote was going to play out.

Ahead of the vote, security has been stepped up across the country, with some 40,000 police guarding polling stations.

Ruled by the junta for nearly half a century, Myanmar has seen economic and political reform in recent years.

Ms Suu Kyi has already raised concerns about poll fraud and voting irregularities. In the 1990 election, the NLD won a majority, but the results were largely ignored by the generals.

For its part, the government has warned that rapid change could lead to civil unrest.

-BBC