April 1, 2017 10:45 pm JST

Myanmar by-elections take pulse of Suu Kyi's popularity

Results not expected until Sunday at the earliest

A voter signs her name to get a ballot sheet from an official of the Union Election Commission at a polling station on the outskirts of Yangon, on Apr. 1. © AP

YANGON (AP) -- Voter went to the polls Saturday for 19 by-elections in Myanmar, in the first test of the popularity of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy since it formed the government a year ago.

Results are not expected until Sunday at the earliest. No incidents of violence were reported by the time the polls closed.

Nine of the contested seats were in the Lower House, three in the Upper House and the rest in state and regional assemblies in ethnic minority areas.

Some seats became vacant because the lawmakers were promoted to the Cabinet. Some were open because of deaths, while others were never filled in the 2015 general election after security concerns in the areas forced the cancellation of voting.

The contests Saturday did not cause the same excitement or engagement as in the 2015 general election, and turnout was expected to be low. The National League for Democracy's campaign lacked star appeal as election rules prohibited Suu Kyi herself from campaigning on its behalf. But many voters still came to the polls to perform their civic duty.

"Even though today is Saturday, it's not a day off for me," said San Win. "This is the time I go to work. But no matter what kind of difficulties I face, I take the time to come here to vote."

The main opposition party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, was hoping that the government's perceived slow progress since taking power will work to its advantage at the ballot box. The USDP is the military-backed party that held power before Suu Kyi took office.

But even if there has been some disappointment in the slow pace of change under Suu Kyi's government, her party remains the first choice among many voters.

"I voted for the NLD in the 2015 general election and I voted again now because I like the way the NLD government is working for us and our country. I am so glad," said Kyaw Htway.

The voting came at a time of renewed hostilities between some ethnic guerrilla forces and Myanmar's army, especially in Shan state, where a number of the by-elections are taking place. Ethnic parties performed poorly in 2015, but they are hoping that disappointment with the government will see them make gains.

Around 2 million people were registered to vote on Saturday, but turnout numbers were not immediately available.

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