First for a little background: Myanmar, otherwise known as Burma, was colonized by the British in the 19th century. They left behind a great deal of influences including colonial buildings, Brittish words that are still used today, bidets, and tea – lots of tea. The next great leader of Burma was General Aung Sun Suki, he helped Burma gain its independence and was held in high regard until his assassination and a coup d’etat in 1962. In the next five decades the military dictatorship greatly hurt the country. The whole country was mostly closed off from foreigners during this period. Thankfully in 2011 this leadership formally ended, however the government still was led by former military officers. Which leads us to now.
This year was the first democratic election in Myanmar’s history. HUGE, right? There was an extraordinary amount of worry and anticipation regarding the election. Everyone was worried about what might happen, that there would be unrests and the government would strike back painfully. No one believed that the election would actually be clean, but the world’s eyes were all looking at Myanmar and some countries even flew in specific organizations to see that the election ran successfully.
For the past few months there have been more and more political rallies. The main party that held these were the National League for Democracy. This is led by Aung Sun Suki’s daughter (of the same name) who has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for her stance against the government. The rallies were spirited events with supporters wearing the red symbol for the league in support. You could also see the golden bird holding arrows sprinkled throughout the city on cars, pins, banners at houses, and photos in shops.
In the weeks leading up to the election everyone blamed everything possible on the election. The internet is running especially slow today? It’s because the government is controlling the level of internet usage to not let election news out to the world. There is more traffic than usual? Lots of foreigners are flocking in for the election. You couldn’t do your homework? Only because my camera was taken by my mom to get coverage for the NLD rally for the upcoming election. It became a game with me and my friends to try and think of a connection between any occurring problem and the election.
In all serious though, even my school was setting up for a worse case scenario. ISM has a faculty evacuation procedure set that involves flying all of the foreign staff to Bangkok and camping out there until the said even dies down. They even have a plan in case we could never get back that involves packing or securing our belongings and sending our remaining pay home.
Although I would have loved to be out photographing the election events on Nov. 8th we were advised to stay inside and to certainly not go anywhere near the voting locations for fear of a riot. So I will include photos by other photographers here. On the day of Kim and I went to a friend’s gathering to share the excitement with our friends. When we taxied there the roads were completely deserted and every single shop was closed. I have never seen our street so quiet.
As you can imagine, there was a great deal of talk about the elections, especially on social media where my Burmese friends proudly showed off their inked finger - after someone voted they dyed their finger with ink so they couldn’t vote again. There was over an 80% population turn out for voting. Everyone was very excited! After the elections there was also quite a lot of talk about whether or not the elections were actually clean. There were reports of rigging the votes which may or may not have been true.
There was still some very apparent corruption like the fact that the vote of every soldier automatically goes to the military party and how there were people “registered” to vote that have been dead for years (seemingly so the military could just take those votes too). But after everything it was announced just two days later that the NATIONAL LEAGUE FOR DEMOCRACY WON THE ELECTION!!!
Either way, the officers will be elected and put in office at the beginning of next year. Unfortunately none of the officers will have had any sort of political experience because none of them are a part of the military. It should be an interesting next five years. Also, 25% of the seats automatically go to the military and – get this – in order to change any part of the constitution you need over 75% of the votes.
Nonetheless, the energy in the country is one of hope, excitement, and relief. Myanmar finally has “our lady” leading the country and is looking forward to see what great things will happen. It was a special time to be here and experience this history changing election. Maybe now when I tell people that I am in Myanmar they might know where I mean.
We left late one Wednesday night and endured a twisting and turning and bumpy 6 hour bus ride to arrive at this little bungalow hotel. But every second was worth it when we saw the beauty of the beach. Almost deserted, it stretched lazily for as long as you could see. All along the shore were small restaurants that served up only the freshest seafood for insanely cheap prices. We spent the entire four days lounging in hammocks, playing with our favorite little kids in the sand, swimming in the perfect temperature of the ocean, and enjoying the crashing waves at night with some good friends. Thanksgiving night we enjoyed a seafood feast at a local restaurant with an accompanying fire show.
I’ve never been much of a beach person but the simplicity and calmness that blankets Ngwe Sung is just perfection. Kim and I even got a motorbike one day and spent some time cruising along the quiet ocean roads. With so many places to visit in the world, there are few that I plan to return to but I know that I will see Ngwe Sung again soon.