Tuesday, July 25, 2017

In South Okkalapa, residents grasp first opportunity to vote


U Kaung Myint Htut, independent Pyithu Hluttaw candidate for South Okkalapa, outside a polling station. U Kaung Myint Htut, independent Pyithu Hluttaw candidate for South Okkalapa, outside a polling station.

Enthusiastically chewing betel, Ko Tun Aung stands outside a polling station in South Okkalapa township reflecting on what he has just done. At 35 years of age, he has never had the opportunity to vote in an election. On this November morning he rose early to cast his ballot, hopeful that the election could transform his life for the better.

“It was 6am when I left home to vote,” he says, still holding his pink National Registration Card (NRC) in his left hand and gripping the betel between his gums. “I’m not educated in politics … I live my life on a day-to-day basis and my expenditure always seems to be higher than my income,” he said.

“We want the right person who can change this situation and give us some financial security.”

A low-paid worker at a small plastic molding company, Ko Tun Aung says livelihood issues were at the front of his mind when he cast his ballot.

When I ask him who he voted for, the smile on his face disappears. He becomes motionless; the betel chewing stops.

After a brief moment of thought, choosing his words carefully, he says: “I voted for the [candidates] who I think can make changes.”

In South Okkalapa, the mayor of Yangon, U Aung Thein Linn ran as a candidate for the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Also on the Pyithu Hluttaw ballot form were candidates from the National Democratic Force, Democratic Party (Myanmar) and National Unity Party as well as one independent.

When Ko Tin Aung mentions “change”, I know exactly who he did not vote for. However, I decide not to press the issue any further than I already have.

Unlike Ko Tun Aung, the 2010 election is not the first time U Hla Thein has voted. He is 88 years of age and walked to the polling station from his home with the aid of a walking stick. The North Okkalapa resident is ushered into the polling station by a throng of young election commission workers.

“I have bad hearing and weak eyesight. I couldn’t see the words on the ballot clearly as the paper was not white enough. I could not see the party logos,” he says.

“Fortunately the head of the polling station is one of my ex-students and he helped me fill out my voting form.”

With his stick firmly planted on the ground, the old man states his desires for the country after the election. He says that he simply wants to continue on with his life in peace, and wishes that all Myanmar people have the same opportunities that he has had to live a peaceful existence.

As election day progresses in South Okkalapa, I see one man getting very agitated. It’s 9am and Ko Than Tun is still yet to vote.

“I’m looking for someone to mind my store. Can you do me a favour?” he asks.

He then runs into his home, takes his NRC and rushes off to the poll station.

After 10 minutes, he’s back. “I’ve voted,” he shouts, wiping beads of sweat off his forehead and beaming with enthusiasm.

“Everything was ok. I was able to vote easily. Even if you don’t know how to vote, there are people inside who will explain it to you,” he says.

Flicking through journals and party flyers, he explains how he decided which candidate to vote for.

“I read their commitments, how they say they will help the country develop. I’ve also monitored how much they’ve done for the people up until now.

“I voted carefully for those who I believe will keep their promises to us. Everyone has good expectations of the election. Let’s wait and see what happens.”