YANGON -- Myanmar's citizens voted to choose their leaders for the next five years in an election on Sunday, with the National League for Democracy led by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi is on track for a big win.
The polls, held amid the coronavirus pandemic, mark the second general election for the NLD under the current constitution. The party won a landslide in 2015 before taking the reins of government the following year.
Nikkei Asia is following the race closely. For more, visit our Myanmar election page.
Read our in-depth coverage:
Here are the latest developments (Myanmar time):
Friday, Nov. 13
8:30 p.m. The Union Election Commission announces that the NLD has won 396 seats, exceeding the number of seats won in the 2015 election. The USDP has won 30 seats, and 11 ethnic parties have won a total of 47 seats.
4:00 p.m. The Union Election Commission announces that the NLD has won 384 seats, getting closer to the number it won in the 2015 election: 390. The USDP has won 28 seats, and nine ethnic parties have won 44 so far.
1:00 p.m. Shwe Mann, chairman of the Union Betterment Party and former speaker of the lower house, says on Facebook that he welcomes statements made by the separatist Arakan Army the day before requesting by-elections as soon as possible in areas where voting didn't take place.
12:20 p.m. The latest batch of results from the election commission goes entirely to the NLD, giving it another 22 seats. This brings the party's official tally to 368.
11:30 a.m. NLD representative Myo Nyunt tells Nikkei Asia that it is "still early" to say whether the NLD will invite members of ethnic parties into its next cabinet. Still, he said, "When we look at 2015, too, there is some history that we brought non-NLD and some ethnic [members] into the cabinet."
Last night, the party sent an open letter calling on dozens of ethnic groups to cooperate with the NLD to realize a "democratic federal union." Asked what this meant, the spokesman said that before the election, the NLD aimed to "compete freely" on its own.
"Then we will go into the parliament after the voting by the people," he said. "That is why we invited them to join us in the parliament as allies for the emergence of the federal democratic union. Regarding the formation of a union government, it is still early to comment."
9:30 a.m. In its latest partial tally, the Union Election Commission announces that the NLD has won 346 seats, securing a parliamentary majority with a total of 664 seats in both houses. With 22 vacant seats, the NLD needed at least 322 to form a government. The military-affiliated USDP has won 25 seats so far, a massive defeat that has led it to describe the electoral process as unfair. Nine ethnic parties have won 41 seats.
Thursday, Nov. 12
9:30 p.m. Responding to an earlier request for a by-election as soon as possible by Arakan Army (AA), an insurgent group in the country's west, Myanmar's military issued a statement saying that they agree with AA.
"We also want to give a chance to those people who want to vote in a free and fair election. Therefore, we welcome the AA's statement to hold by-election in the remaining area, and we will cooperate with relevant organizations as much as we can," the military statement said.
Last month, the UEC decided to cancel voting in 16 constituencies in Rakhine state due to the fighting between AA and the military.
8:45 p.m. The latest update from the Union Election Commission puts the NLD at 319 seats, still just shy of the crucial threshold of 322. The USDP's total inched up by three, to 23. Ethnic parties added eight seats between them since the last count, bringing them to 37 as the process drags on.
6:30 p.m. The NLD has sent an open letter to dozens of ethnic parties, inviting them to work together to realize a "democratic federal union" -- shorthand for a country where all ethnic groups unite under a federal umbrella on an equal footing.
"Some ethnic parties have achieved satisfactory election results, but others have not. In any case, the NLD will continue to work tirelessly for the emergence of a democratic federal union in the future."
The letter continues: "The goals of the ethnic parties are the same as those of the NLD, and the NLD will focus on the aspirations of the ethnic nationalities in the future."
6:00 p.m. A representative of one of the ethnic parties echoes the USDP's complaints about unfairness -- but also argues the USDP is the pot calling the kettle black.
"Absolutely, it wasn't a free and fair election," Gumgrawng Awng Hkam, vice chairman of the Kachin State People's Party, tells Nikkei Asia. "These conditions have been systematically created by the NLD government since 2015. From the ward administrator to the election commission, only those close to them are appointed."
The chairman says it was "exactly the same" after the USDP government rose to power in 2010.
"We need to have an impartial election commission. As long as this kind of bullying continues, it will not be possible to live together and it's also a big obstacle to becoming a federal state."
4:15 p.m. The Union Election Commission announces that the NLD has won 301 seats so far. The numbers for other parties remain the same; the USDP 20, and seven ethnic parties winning a total of 29 seats.
3:30 p.m. The military-affiliated USDP held an online news conference and criticized the Union Election Commission again. The party's Mandalay branch said on Facebook: "The president's participation in NLD's campaign committee is not following the rules in the constitution," reiterating yesterday's claim that the "UEC is biased." However, the Mandalay branch refused to comment on Wednesday's demand by the party for another election.
12:15 p.m. The Union Election Commission announces that the NLD has won 261 seats and the USDP 20. Ethnic parties are struggling to garner seats, with seven ethnic parties mustering a total of 29 so far.
9:30 a.m. The Union Election Commission announces that the NLD has won 243 seats and the military-affiliated USDP 18. The Arakan National Party has won eight seats, the Kachin State Democracy Party and Mon Unity Party five each; Shan Nationalities League for Democracy two, the Arakan Front Party and Kachin State People's Party one each. The NLD has taken 85% of the 283 seats decided so far.
8:50 a.m. Local media has run the following headlines today: The Voice Daily, "Election Commission says voter turnout is around 70%;" The Standard Time Daily, "Election Commission says few people claim that election was not fair;" Iron Rose, "Suu Kyi leadership is clear, but power-sharing is weak."
Wednesday, Nov. 11
8:15 a.m. The Union Election Commission announces that the NLD has won 209 of the 249 declared seats in the bicameral legislature. The NLD needs 322 seats to form the next government and has already claimed victory in Sunday's contest.
4:30 p.m. The Union Election Commission announces that the NLD has won 172 seats and the military-affiliated USDP 16 seats. The NLD has taken 82% of the 210 seats decided so far.
In a press conference, UEC member Myint Naing said: "In 2015, it took 10 days, but we would like to make it 5 to 7 days," which means the final result might come out by this weekend.
3:00 p.m. Witnesses tell Nikkei Asia that in the capital, Naypyidaw, a few dozen people have gathered in front of the election commission office to protest the vote as "unfair." Protestors held banners saying, "We want a new and fair [Union Election Commission] to be formed."
2:30 p.m. The military-affiliated opposition, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, has held a press conference in Yangon, telling the media that they will not accept the election results.
The party said: "USDP demands the election commission hold a new election again, cooperating with the military, so the election will be free, fair and unbiased."
12:30 p.m. The Union Election Commission announces that the NLD has won 130 seats and the military-affiliated USDP 15 seats. Results for other parties remain the same as in the morning. Of the 158 seats up for grabs, the NLD has taken 82%.
9:30 a.m. The Union Election Commission announces that the National League for Democracy has won 96 seats, the Union Solidarity and Development Party nine seats and the Kachin State Democracy Party five seats.
The Arakan National Party, Shan Nationalities League for Democracy and the Mon Unity Party have won two seats each. The Arakan Front Party and Kachin State People's Party have won one each. Of the 118 seats announced, NLD won 81%.
Tuesday, Nov. 10
7:15 p.m. The Carter Center, the nongovernmental organization founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, has released a preliminary statement on Myanmar's election.
"The Carter Center's international election observation mission found that voters were enthusiastic and able to freely express their will at the polls and choose their elected representatives," it says.
However, it adds, "At the same time, the quality of democracy in Myanmar continues to be undermined by serious deficiencies in the legal framework, including the reserved seats for military appointees, highlighting the need for reform to bring the country in line with international obligations."
6:05 p.m. Japan may have jumped out ahead of much of the world in congratulating Suu Kyi, but some in Myanmar insist the jury is still out. Union Solidarity and Development Party Chairman Than Htay has posted a video on Facebook challenging the fairness of the election. "The counting process is in progress. Voting is finished, but the winner has not yet been announced," he says in the clip. "The 'results' now being talked about are not finalized yet."
The chairman casts doubt on the legality of the process. "There were so many disputes, and there will be so many disputes. I would like to stress that these arguments will last long," he says, all but echoing Donald Trump's refusal to concede in the U.S. presidential election. "We will try to get the free and fair results."
5:20 p.m. Official results continue to slowly trickle out. The election commission says that, as of about an hour ago, the NLD was up to 42 seats. The military-affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Party had two, while an ethnic party also had two.
Earlier, NLD representative Myo Nyunt told Nikkei that the party was likely to secure more than the 390 seats it won in 2015, based on information from its own polling station observers.
5:15 p.m. A spokesperson for the Arakan National Party, which draws support in Myanmar's western state of Rakhine, tells Nikkei Asia that the party has secured eight seats. In nine of 17 townships in the state, however, voting was canceled by the election commission due to security issues and armed conflicts.
"Only 25% of the constituencies were able to hold the election in Rakhine State and only one-third of people voted in the election here," says the ANP's Aye Nu Sein. Nevertheless, she says, the party will represent those who did and did not vote, and the "whole Rakhine nationality."
She adds that the party must go on "with the mindset that we will row with hands, without oars." But she stresses, "We feel that we were not able to run the election freely and fairly."
4:45 p.m. While we await official word, the NLD's online dashboard for tracking its own seat total has shot past the key number of 322 and hit 354.
4:00 p.m. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga congratulates Aung San Suu Kyi on the victory of her NLD in the general election, the Japanese government announced. "Japan will cooperate with the next administration in Myanmar and continue to fully support the country's democratic nation-building," Suga said in his message sent to Suu Kyi.
Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi also hailed the victory of the NLD led by Suu Kyi, who doubles as foreign minister, and the successful holding of the election despite the spread of the coronavirus.
3:30 p.m. The Asian Network for Free Elections, an election observer, publishes an interim report saying: "Polling and counting operations were conducted diligently and transparently," but added that the legal framework continues to be undemocratic. "Large sectors of the population remain disenfranchised," it said.
3:00 p.m. Political analyst Khin Zaw Win tells Nikkei Asia that the likely NLD victory will exceed expectations, with ethnic-based parties in Chin, Karen and Kachin states likely to suffer defeat. He noted that ethnic parties in Shan and Kayah states were still strong, however, adding: "The NLD never thinks about forming a coalition with the ethnic parties."
He compared the expected victory of the NLD with that of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which won a decisive victory in 2019 and became "uncontrollable" in their second term, igniting Hindu nationalism. He added that it was unclear whether a similar growth of nationalism would happen in Myanmar.
12:30 p.m. The election commission says the NLD has won 34 seats, while the military-affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Party remains stuck at one.
12:00 p.m. Phoe Reh, chairman of the Kayah State Democratic Party, tells Nikkei Asia the party assumes it won two seats in the lower house and three in the upper house. KySDP represents the Kayah ethnic group. The chairman added: "We need to analyze the situation of our party, but the performance of the election commission also needs to be reviewed. We want the commission to be impartial. They did not allow observers in some polling stations."
10:30 a.m. The election commission says Aung San Suu Kyi has been elected to the lower house, representing a Yangon district. But her victory is symbolic and she is expected to resign her seat, as standing lawmakers are prohibited from joining the government in other capacities. According to the commission, the NLD has now secured 20 seats, with the military-affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Party winning one seat.
8:52 a.m. An NLD spokesman told media yesterday the party had secured a majority of votes, but the election commission has not announced final results. NLD online reports have been contradictory, at one point indicating that the party had received 77 seats as of this morning -- far from the 322 needed for a majority. Vote counting may take days.
Meanwhile, local newspapers ran the following headlines: 7Day News, "Aung San Suu Kyi thanks the people for the successful election;" The Daily Eleven Newspaper, "NLD secures enough seats to form government;" and Myanmar Times, "NLD poised for big win."
Monday, Nov. 9
11:53 p.m. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calls the Myanmar election an important step toward democratization but also expresses concerns about the process.
"The United States will continue to closely monitor the electoral process," Pompeo says in a statement. "We call on all relevant authorities to ensure tabulation of votes and resolution of complaints is undertaken in a transparent and credible manner."
8:00 p.m. State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi delivers her first post-election speech. "I would like to thank all of the voters and the people for the successful ending of the election," she says.
But the statement was made as the leader of the civilian government, rather than as the head of the NLD, which now appears to be headed toward another landslide victory.
"In the coming weeks, we will accelerate our effort to reduce COVID-19," Suu Kyi continued. "I would like to request all people to take care of your health."
5:30 p.m. With the NLD racking up a strong lead nationwide, preliminary results are proving disappointing for ethnic parties even in their own regions. "I won in my constituency. But our party had hoped that we would win in most constituencies," Manam Tu Ja, chairman of the Kachin State People's Party, or KSPP, said in an interview with Kachin-based media outlet KachinWaves. "So far, the result is not as good as we expected," he added.
"I voted for KSPP candidates, but the result did not turn out as we expected," a 28-year-old man in Kachin State said. "We [the people in Kachin] lack unity and still need to make a lot of effort to come together. I think also because of COVID-19 restrictions the public in Kachin didn't get a chance to be introduced to the party's policies."
5:00 p.m. The NLD predicts a landslide victory as vote counting proceeds. NLD spokesperson Myo Nyunt said in an interview with local media: "According to our data collection, we believe that we will get more seats than 2015, which was 390."
4:15 p.m. The Union Election Commission announces that the National League for Democracy has secured three seats so far.
2:30 p.m. Local media Mizzima News reports that People's Party Chairman Ko Ko Gyi and Thet Thet Khine, leader of the People's Pioneer Party, have lost their seats.
2:00 p.m. NLD spokesperson Myo Nyunt tells Nikkei Asia that the party believes it has won the majority. Asked whether the party has won more than 322 seats, the majority threshold, he said: "According to our data, we have come over that amount." He added: "We estimate that we will get more seats than the 2015 election."
12:15 p.m. The Union Election Commission announces on state-owned TV that there are no final results.
11:35 a.m. Thet Thet Khine, leader of the People's Pioneer Party, tells Nikkei Asia: "We will respect the election result, even though the process has been suspect regarding early votes." The leader is a former lawmaker of the NLD but now runs the newly formed PPP opposition party.
11:00 a.m. Ko Ko Gyi, chairman of the People's Party, speaking on a Facebook live broadcast, says: "We contested in 43 seats throughout the country. So far, we have heard that our party is having success. This was the first election campaign for us, but we made a great effort." Ko Ko Gyi is a prominent democracy activist and a leader of the 1988 student uprising against Myanmar's former military junta.
10:30 a.m. The NLD has secured 18 seats thus far, according to the party.
9:45 a.m. According to state-owned newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar, the chairman of the Union Election Commission said the results will be announced today at noon, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. -- but it is unclear how many seats the commission will be able to announce.
As we wait for the results, let's take a look at the headlines of local newspapers. 7Day News: "Taking time to announce the results due to advanced voting and the coronavirus"; The Voice Daily: "NLD is leading, though the result is not announced yet"; The Standard Time Daily: "Too early to call a landslide for NLD."
8:30 a.m. Vote counting has begun, with a now-quiet polling station in downtown Yangon near the Sule Pagoda showing partial results on a piece of paper posted on a window. The Union Election Commission is to announce at least some of the results today, but no official schedule has been revealed. Meanwhile, the NLD is announcing seats it believes it has won based on information from its observers at each polling station. So far, the party says it has secured eight lower house seats.
Sunday, Nov. 8
8:00 p.m. No official results have been announced yet. An NLD spokesperson comes out of the headquarters in Yangon and tells supporters to be patient and wait for the outcome at home.
That's it for today. We will keep posting if there are any major developments.
7:15 p.m. Wai Wai, a 45-year-old from Shwe Go Daing township, joined other NLD supporters with her family in front of the party's headquarters. She says: "I completely support the NLD and trust 'Mother Suu.' The NLD will definitely win the election."
7:10 p.m. Hundreds of people have gathered around the NLD headquarters in central Yangon, expecting that Aung San Suu Kyi's party has scored a decisive victory. Supporters are waving the NLD flag and chanting.
6:30 p.m. Local media reports say that Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint are both leading in their constituencies in the preliminary count.
4:00 p.m. Voting officially ends, but citizens who are already in line can wait until their turn comes. Counting starts inside the polling stations, beginning with the advance ballots. Observers from each party are watching the process.
3:16 p.m. The Democracy and Human Rights Party, which represents the Rohingya minority, issues a statement saying it is "utterly disappointed" that many Rohingya people were not able to participate in the election. It calls on the government to "eradicate all unjust policies" affecting the Muslim group.
3:00 p.m. Local media reports that a woman alleged to be a representative of a Union Solidarity and Development Party candidate was arrested in a village in Mon State. According to the reports, she had fake ballots in her bag.
2:45 p.m. The largest election observing organization in Myanmar, the People's Alliance for Credible Elections, says 5% of its monitors have been unable to perform their duties because polling station officers stood in the way. According to PACE, 15% of registered voters cast their ballots in advance.
In this video footage, voters can be seen waiting to make their picks in Yangon.
1:55 p.m. Despite the overall popularity of the NLD, especially among the Bamar people, in ethnic states the sentiment is different. In Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, a 59-year old woman says she voted for the first time in her life -- with local interests at the front of her mind. "I want to choose our leader by myself," she says. "I just voted for someone who could build peace and work for the economy of Kachin State."
In Kachin, several local parties merged to form the Kachin State People's Party. Disappointment toward the NLD among ethnic groups has deepened due to the failure to seal peace agreements.
12:44 p.m. Like their urban counterparts, citizens in rural areas are also enthusiastic about participating in Myanmar's fledgling democratic process. In Myaungmya, west of Yangon, Than Than Oo, a 44-year-old homemaker, says: "We are afraid of COVID-19, but everyone should vote. I hope there will be more change in education, business and the health sector."
She adds, "I believe only the NLD can make changes."
11:00 a.m. Foreign election observers are in the country to secure fairness. Yohei Sasakawa, head of an observer mission from Japan, says: "I am impressed seeing the voters so serious about casting their votes. Polling stations are well-managed despite the pandemic."
On the other hand, in dozens of rural constituencies, the Union Election Commission decided to postpone the voting due to "security reasons." Sasakawa says he met with UEC officials on Friday and "requested that they set up by-elections as soon as possible."
10:00 a.m. Local media reports that Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing has cast his vote in the capital, Naypyitaw. The head of the military, who has extraordinary political influence, said: "I voted for the party that can work with the military," adding, "I will accept the results of the elections. We can't deny it."
Besides the 25% of military-appointed seats, the largest opposition party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, is affiliated with the armed forces.
Last Monday, Min Aung Hlaing's office had issued a statement criticizing the Union Election Commission. "There are announcements [by the UEC] under the pretext of protecting voting rights, but that goes beyond the existing laws," it said.
9:22 a.m. Our reporters in Yangon are hearing from many voters that they support the NLD, as expected. Aye Tun, a 57-year-old taxi driver in the city, says: "During the last five years, we have gotten the chance to talk about our difficulties. I am satisfied with it."
Tin Htoo Aung, a 50-year-old street vendor, tells us: "I feel the NLD didn't fulfill our hopes, but I still believe the NLD stands for the minority people. I voted for them to give them another chance."
8:45 a.m. To prevent coronavirus infections, polling stations in Yangon are implementing precautions, such as taking temperatures and asking voters to sanitize their hands. In some places, masks and face shields are being distributed. The country has recorded over 60,000 COVID-19 cases in the pandemic so far, with nearly 1,400 deaths.
6:30 a.m. At a polling station in Yangon, a 39-year-old bakery owner accompanied by his wife says: "We believe that the NLD will do the best for education. We hope the government improves the next generation in the next five years."
6:00 a.m. Voting starts. Citizens aged 18 and up are casting their ballots for parliament's upper and lower houses.
5:47 a.m. Voters line up before the sun comes up, waiting for Yangon polling stations to open. A 45-year-old homemaker, Hla Myaing, says she hopes "the party I vote for will do their best for the next five years."