Myanmar: live report

Moira Shaw
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Voters stand in a queue outside a polling station in Kawhmu

Voters stand in a queue outside a polling station in the constituency where Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is running in Kawhmu on April 1, 2012

0755 GMT: Myanmar state television has shown President Thein Sein, dressed in a white shirt and a traditional longyi (sarong), voting in the regime’s showpiece capital Naypyidaw, the stronghold of the ruling USDP party and home to many government workers.

When reporters asked the president about the election, he replied: "Everything is fine."

After almost half a century of iron-fisted military rule, the junta in March last year handed power to a new government led by President Thein Sein, one of a clutch of former generals who shed their uniforms to contest a 2010 election.

0733 GMT: As voters continue to line up at the polling stations, Zin Min Soe, a resident of Kawhmu township, told AFP: “I want to vote for Mother Suu but they haven't given me my ballot paper so I'm here to demand it... for me there is only Mother. If I cannot find my name I will have to ask them to issue my ballot paper. They can't just lose my vote.”

The polls have been marred somewhat by allegations of ballot-paper irregularities and missing names on the voter lists.

0646 GMT: Foreign journalists and international observers have been given wide access in this by-election, unlike in 2010 during the general election. That election, won by the military's political proxies, was marred by widespread complaints of cheating and the exclusion of Suu Kyi, who was released from seven straight years of house arrest shortly afterwards.

Today, AFP's Hla Hla Htay says most of the polling stations in Kawhmu have been set up in schools and there is just normal security rather than police.

"We were even allowed to go around the polling station and we could take photos and video and even ask questions of the voters," she says.

0630 GMT: 'The Lady' is getting a lot of attention from villagers and the media and "she obviously likes it", says AFP photographer Christophe Archambault, who has been following Suu Kyi all day.

"It is really hectic wherever Suu Kyi travels, there were crowds following her every step wherever she traveled in Kawhmu," he says.

"There were lines and lines of people waving flags and chanting and shouting slogs on the way back to Yangon," he says. "You talk about an icon, but she's a true icon in all senses of the word."

0615 GMT: The enthusiasm for the election is apparent everywhere, our reporters say. Even in the tiny rural villages dotted between parched fields, local people stood in front of their thatched bamboo homes and waves enthusiastically as Suu Kyi's convoy and the following press pack snaked past, braving the thick clouds of dust whipped up by the vehicles.

AFP's Macnamara says the villagers are finding their foreign visitors to be a great source of entertainment.

"At one point we lost (AFP video journalist) Richard and I hopped on a motorbike to find him and rode down the street with a group of nuns waving at me.

"As I returned down the same street the nuns waved again and jumped up and down and cheered.

"They thought it was hilarious that I was driving back and forth," she says.

0605 GMT: Suu Kyi has returned to Yangon, followed by a convoy of press, including AFP, Hla Hla Htay reports.

"Everything is quiet, like normal in Yangon," she says.

0600 GMT: One of the AFP vans in the press convoy following Suu Kyi has fallen victim to the poor visibility on the dusty roads and has been hit by a car following behind it. It appears the driver was impatient and wanted to get to the front of the line of vehicles, says Macnamara.

"As the drivers swapped details, AFP video journalist Richard (Sargent) flagged down a passing motorbike to get back in the convoy, leaving the photo editor Christophe (Archambault) to use the short break to file early pictures from Kawhmu."

0550 GMT: AFP's Hla Hla Htay says she has witnessed strong support for Suu Kyi among voters in Kawhmu.

"Most of them even openly dared to say they would vote for Suu Kyi," she says. "Most of the people we interviewed said they had voted for Suu Kyi."

0539 GMT: Reports of election tampering have been made by opposition groups in Myanmar. National League for Democracy spokesman Nyan Win said there had been widespread complaints that wax had been put over the check box for Suu Kyi's party, which could be rubbed off later to cancel the vote.

"This is happening around the country. The election commission is responsible for what is occurring," he told AFP. "I have sent a complaint letter to the union election commission. If it continues like this it can harm the prestige of the election."

The NLD is contesting 44 of the 45 seats at stake in Sunday's vote -- not enough to threaten the ruling party's majority, but a seat in parliament would give the opposition a chance to shape legislation for the first time.

0525 GMT: AFP's Macnamara reports on the hazards involved in working in large press packs, and how to recover with grace when embarrassing 'incidents' occur.

"After visiting one polling station, Suu Kyi had to cross a narrow concrete bridge over a ditch to return to her car, with photographers and cameramen walking backwards in front of her towards the bridge.

"One photographer as he walked backwards missed the bridge and fell on his back. Suu Kyi stopped in her tracks and asked him if he was OK.

'You've bruised your arm,' she said looking down at him.

The photographer looked up, picked up his camera and asked to take her picture.

"This was an example of a consummate professional," a fellow photographer said.

0516 GMT: Yangon has seen an explosion in the number of vendors selling T-shirts with images of "The Lady and logos of the NLD. One of the latest designs states: "We must win", printed on a red shirt with Suu Kyi's face printed in black.

All of this would have been taboo a year ago, our resident Myanmar correspondent Hla Hla Htay says. "There was obvious glee at being able to display political allegiance freely."

0505 GMT: More from our correspondent Macnamara who is in the convoy of reporters following Suu Kyi around Kawhmu. "People are lining the streets, smiling and waving energetically at the convoy going past."

The villagers seem to be enjoying all the attention the world's media is focusing on them, she says.

"With the recent election campaigns they've seen big rallies before but today is a bit special for them, seeing the attention of the world on this remote area."

0500 GMT: One of our AFP photographers in Yangon says this morning he saw the former Myanmar prime minister and military intelligence chief Khin Nyunt casting his vote at a polling station.

He was a key figure in Myanmar's political hierarchy until he was purged in 2004 in a power struggle and placed under house arrest, he was released last January.

0450 GMT: According to ASEAN chief Surin Pitsuwan, voting in Myanmar is "going rather well". He said he had been in touch with the ASEAN observers who were invited to monitor the election and that "they report full enthusiasm, full alert, full awareness of all parties involved in the by-elections."

Myanmar's poor human rights record and iron-fisted suppression of political dissent have often hijacked ASEAN gatherings in the past, much to the embarrassment of more democratic member-states.

0440 GMT: Until last year, prominent coverage of Suu Kyi -- known as "The Lady" -- was almost unheard of and people who spoke to reporters were taking a real risk.

Today Myanmar's journalists are taking to Twitter and Facebook in their battle to beat press restrictions and deliver breaking news about the by-elections that for many will be the biggest story of their careers.

0430 GMT: Watching Suu Kyi as she visited the polling stations in Kawhmu just after dawn, Macnamara says, 'The Lady' appears to have recovered her strength.

"She was expected to stop at just three polling stations in the morning but the democracy icon, holding a sprig of yellow flowers, continued to look energetic at the fifth stop in her Kawhmu constituency."

0420 GMT: AFP's correspondent Kelly Macnamara reporting from Suu Kyi's constituency of Kawhmu says some of the locals lining up to vote are dressed in traditional Karen ethnic dress.

"The weather's hot, as it usually is, and it's very, very dry and dusty with a bit of a breeze.

"It was great this morning because people were dressed up in these beautiful costumes in vibrant red and blue in stark contrast to dusty background of the village.

"They were all waiting solemnly for Daw Suu to come out. They seemed proud to be there."

0410 GMT: Before voters gathered at the polls, the National League for Democracy sought to alleviate fears about Suu Kyi’s health.

Suu Kyi has been showing signs of strain. She cancelled campaigning last week after she fell ill and was put on a drip following a gruelling schedule of rallies and speeches across the country.

NLD spokesman Nyan Win said that Suu Kyi was "fine" as she travelled to Kawhmu. "She is weak, but we do not need to worry," he said.

0350 GMT: When Suu Kyi visited a polling station in the rural constituency of Kawhmu, about two hours' drive from Yangon, she was surrounded by cheering supporters and a mob of local and international journalists.

In an attempt by the government burnish its reform credentials, foreign observers and journalists have been invited to witness the vote.


We are bringing you live coverage from our correspondents in Myanmar on the landmark by-elections.

Voters began flocking to the polls early on Sunday for the elections, which are expected to sweep opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi into parliament as part of dramatic political reforms.

The polls are the first time in 22 years Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has been allowed to stand for a seat in parliament in the country dominated by the military until last year.

The National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory in an election in 1990 while she was under house arrest, but the ruling junta at the time never recognised the result and she spent much of the next two decades in detention.