YANGON: More than 30 million people are eligible to vote in Myanmar’s election on Sunday, a poll that could redraw the political landscape of a nation smothered by decades of junta rule.
Here’s what you need to know about the coming election.
How significant is the election?
November 8 offers Myanmar voters their first — and potentially freest — chance to have a say in their nation’s future.
The military’s so-called “Burmese Way to Socialism” turned a once a booming economy into a basket case as an elite got rich while pushing disastrous economic policies onto the nation.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy is expected to make major gains, but it is far from certain it will win an outright majority.
Whatever the outcome, there is still a long way to go until the country becomes fully democratic — the army is granted 25 percent of parliamentary seats under the constitution.
How did it come about?
In 2011 the junta ceded power to a reformist Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP) administration led by ex-general Thein Sein.
Observers say Myanmar’s generals were motivated to open the country to halt economic disintegration.
But they planned the route to “disciplined democracy” carefully, passing a 2008 constitution that ring-fenced the role of the military in parliament and barring Suu Kyi from the presidency.
In 2010 the generals released Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi from years of house arrest after flawed elections.
The USDP government, which released hundreds of political prisoners and restored many freedoms, was rewarded with the lifting of most Western sanctions.
President Thein Sein insists he supports Myanmar’s democratic development and has vowed the election will be free and fair, making the polls the clearest test yet of reform.
Who will win?
Some 30 million people are expected to vote for more than 6,000 candidates standing for 91 different political parties.
There are 323 seats up for grabs in the lower house and 168 in the upper house.
A further 110 seats in the lower house and 56 in the upper are reserved for military appointees.
For an outright majority over the combined parliament, the NLD need to win at least 330 — or 67 percent — of the contested seats.
The USDP has an automatic head start because of its links with the army. It needs just 33 percent of the seats to combine with the military bloc.
NLD supporters may not stomach anything less than clear victory after years of struggle for democracy.
But a strong result from ethnic parties could dilute the party’s majority.
Observers expect months of political horse-trading after the poll in the run up to a parliamentary vote to select a president early next year.
What happens next?
Whoever reaches a majority can expect to form a government.
The next step will be to choose a president, but it is a deliberately messy process established under an army-scripted constitution.
The lower house, the upper house and the military offer up preferred candidates, with the winner elected by lawmakers.
At the moment President Thein Sein has not ruled out standing, making him a likely military-backed candidate.
Suu Kyi is forbidden from taking the top spot because the charter disbars candidates with foreign-born offspring — her two sons are British nationals.
The NLD has yet to give any hint who its preferred candidate will be, although Suu Kyi has promised it will be a civilian NLD member.
Nonetheless, Suu Kyi has made no secret of her determination to “lead” the government if the NLD wins.
It is unclear how the military will react to this.