Yangon/Mandalay: Myanmar goes to the polls on Sunday, taking its biggest stride yet in a journey to democracy from dictatorship, but the legacy of military rule means opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi cannot become president even if her party wins a landslide.
The sense of excitement in the Southeast Asian nation was palpable on the eve of the election as around 30 million people prepared to vote in the first free nationwide poll in a quarter of a century. "I really want change," said Zobai, a Muslim jade trader in the second-largest city of Mandalay who goes by one name. "I've been alive for 53 years and all I've seen is dictatorship." Religious tensions marred the run-up to the election, fanned by Buddhist nationalists whose actions have intimidated Myanmar's Muslim minority.
Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi won the last free vote in 1990, but the military ignored the result. She spent most of the next 20 years under house arrest before her release in 2010.
Her National League for Democracy (NLD) is expected to win again, but she is barred from taking the presidency herself under a constitution written by the junta to preserve its power.
If she wins a majority and is able to form Myanmar's first democratically elected government since the 1960s, Suu Kyi says she will be the power behind the new president regardless of a constitution she has derided as "very silly".
Suu Kyi starts the contest with a sizeable handicap in parliament — even if the vote is deemed free and fair, one-quarter of parliament's seats will still be held by unelected military officers. To form a government and choose its own president, the NLD, on its own or with allies, must win more than two-thirds of all seats up for grabs. By contrast, the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) would need far fewer seats if it secured the backing of the military bloc in parliament