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YANGON, Myanmar – Voters expressed excitement but also foreboding Saturday as Myanmar prepared for its first free and fair elections in a quarter of a century.
Eligible voters hope to cast their ballot Sunday in the first democratic election since 1990, choosing a government after decades of military rule in which the country became a pariah state.
Most votes are expected to go to the party of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose official calendars were widely on sale in the capital Yangon.
However, even if her National League for Democracy (NLD) wins big, Suu Kyi is barred from the presidency by a constitution written by Myanmar's powerful military, but she has pledged to advise whoever takes up the post.
In the city’s busy market, many expressed their admiration for the Nobel laureate, who spent decades under house arrest after the military refused to accept her victory in 1990. The junta continued its rule, which began in 1962 and did not end until 2011.
Some fear the military will not respect the result. Ko Yar Zar, 40, a taxi driver who said he still did not trust the country’s rulers.
“I love [Aung San Suu Kyi] and I hope she will bring changes to the country,” he said.
However, Myanmar President Thein Sein promised Friday that both the military and the government would accept the outcome.
"I'd like to say again that the government and the military will respect and accept the results. I will accept the new government formed based on the election result," Thein Sein said, according to Reuters.
Suu Kyi has urged the international community to keep a keen vigil over the country in the months between the vote and the new government taking power at the end of March. A smooth transition was almost as important as fair elections, she said.
Thein Sein said that after the election he would meet the leaders of all political forces and discuss the steps forward. "These political meetings will not only help the stability in the post-election period but will also help to gently transform into a new political ground," said Thein Sein.
He acknowledged that organizing an election was a challenge, but stressed the government's commitment to a credible vote and said more than 10,000 observers will scrutinize the process.
Preparation for the elections has been marred by a series of setbacks with around four million people unable to cast their votes. Thousands are missing from voter lists, millions abroad failed to register in time, and most of the 1.1 million persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority are barred from participating.
Myanmar has not had an elected government since the 1960s and only published the results the country's first census in 30 years in May.