There wasn’t much need to ask Hlegu residents who they planned to vote for on April 1 – the flags, posters and T-shirts bearing the golden peacock logo on a brilliant red background said it all.
“For me, I voted for the party that really made sacrifices for the people,” said Ko Min Zaw Oo, 32. “I voted in 2010 too. But this year is different – more exciting and I’m more eager to vote. And yes. Voting is free. There was nothing uncomfortable.”
Ko Min Zaw Oo didn’t want to disclose the name of the party he voted for, but said that many other Hlegu residents would make the same choice as he did.
“I consider three things when voting: the party has to work for the country, to work for the people and to sacrifice for the public. The party I vote for has satisfied all these requirements and I believe 100 percent that it will win,” he said.
U Aung Myint Thein, 58, said that he voted in the by-election without any pressure.
“I did not vote in the 2010 election because I did not want to. But this time, I voted for the National League for Democracy (NLD) because I love the NLD. I do not expect any thing from them personally. I just voted for them because I want to encourage them,” he said.
“I have been a monk for several years so I don’t like being lied to. I voted for the NLD because they speak the truth; they don’t lie to people. I really believe in those fighting peacocks.”
At a voting station in War Nat Kwin-Ye Mon village, several groups arrived in old trucks to cast their vote.
“About 50 of us came from a village named Taw Insein near Hlegu. We didn’t vote in 2010 because we were busy and we are busy now too but we came here because we want to vote for the fighting peacock. The whole village likes the fighting peacock,” said farmer Daw Yi Yi Shwe.
“We vote for the NLD because we love Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. We do not expect anything for ourselves,” she added.
But victorious NLD candidate U Phyo Min Thein, a well-known 88 Generation activist, told The Myanmar Times he would do his best to work for the people of Hlegu.
“The most important thing for Hlegu people is they want a secure life, they don’t want to live with a sense of fear anymore, they eagerly desire to have a strong legislative body and they don’t want to be afraid of officials or other people wearing uniforms any more,” he said.
Another issue is job creation, U Phyo Min Thein said. There is few employment opportunities for the people of Hlegu other than growing paddy, and even this had become a barely-profitable enterprise.
He said his broader aims were to work for law and order, national peace, amending the 2008 constitution and to introduce a competitive market economy that was fair for all.
“We will change the old policies of autocracy if we win. We will definitely bring about change,” he said.
But not all people going to vote in Hlegu seemed to welcome this prospect. While few openly admitted not voting for the NLD, a few said they preferred a strong legislature and executive to colourful campaigning.
But perhaps sensing which way the winds of democracy were blwoing, U Phyo Min Thein’s main rival, Union Solidarity and Development Party candidate Dr Aung Myat Thu, was nowhere to be seen on election day. Residents said the USDP candidate had done little campaigning in the lead up to the vote. A third candidate, from the New Society Democratic Party, appeared to have made little impression with voters, in sharp contrast to the NLD election onslaught.
Daw Sapay Aye, a 58-year-old retired civil servant, told The Myanmar Times that she voted for “Daw Suu”.
“I wanted to vote freely for my favourite party,” she said. “The most important thing we want is to get human rights and to reduce poverty. We’ve suffered a lot since 1988 and we’ve endured many years of tragedy but now we can vote freely.”
She said she believed in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi because she is the daughter of Bogyoke Aung San and, like him, had suffered for her country.
“We want to be free from difficulties and bullies. All our neighbours told me that they would also vote for the ‘old lady’,” she said.