Myanmar excluded more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees from the nation's second openly contested election in decades, leading the United Nations to warn that the polling was not free or fair, as the country's ruling party led by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday claimed it won a majority of seats.
Mohammad Yusuf, who lives in the world's largest refugee settlement in Bangladesh, says he voted in almost every Myanmar election from 1974 until 2010, the last time ethnic Rohingya were allowed to cast ballots in the country he still calls home after fleeing three years ago.
When Myanmar held its second democratic election after decades of military rule, Yusuf was among hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims deprived of participation. "Not being able to vote makes me feel really sad. It feels as though we are dead and we don't matter," Yusuf, 65, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
"These rights are important. We want our children to become engineers and lawyers one day. But I don't see this happening any time in the future. I don't have the confidence. I don't know if we will even be able to vote in 2025."
Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as an indigenous ethnic group, deriding them as illegal "Bengalis" from Bangladesh, although the community traces their history in Myanmar back for centuries.
"I can now confirm that we're now securing more than 322 seats," said Monywa Aung Shin, a spokesperson for Myanmar's ruling National League for Democracy party (NLD). There are 642 seats in Parliament. "We were aiming to secure 377 seats in total. But it would be likely more than that," said Monywa Aung Shin. There were no reliable official figures available on voter turnout, and the Union Election Commission had earlier said that it might take as long as a week to release full results.
A victory by the NLD had been widely expected, though it had been speculated that its deterioration of relations with ethnic minority-based parties, with whom it had cooperated in the last election in 2015, might cut its totals.
Much of the NLD's appeal is based on the popularity of Suu Kyi, who became the head of government with the title of State Counsellor after the 2015 polls. Her administration's record has been mixed at best, with economic growth falling short of expectations and no end to the decades-old armed strife with ethnic minorities seeking greater autonomy.
Her reputation took a dive in response to her failure to defend the human rights of the country's Muslim Rohingya minority. Her foreign supporters were shocked that she did nothing about the brutal 2017 counterinsurgency campaign by Myanmar's army that forced about 740,000 Rohingya to flee across the border to neighboring Bangladesh. Suu Kyi strongly denied any wrongdoing by government forces and she made it clear that she supports Myanmar's military, which was founded by her father. Her government's rhetoric has left little doubt as to how she regards the Muslim community as her office dismissed accounts of mass sexual violence by soldiers against Rohingya women in 2016 as "fake rape."
Last December, the highest court of the United Nations, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Myanmar to protect Rohingya Muslims from acts of genocide, in an embarrassing blow to Suu Kyi.