Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg
Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

An Inside Look at Life Under Myanmar's Fledgling Democracy

Myanmar holds a landmark general election on Nov. 8 that will provide the biggest test of the army's pledge to consolidate the nation's transition to democracy following a half-century of military rule. The personal popularity of Aung San Suu Kyi may help sweep her party to power in the first national vote since a nominally civilian government was installed by the junta in 2011, but the constitution still bars her from the presidency because her children hold foreign passports. The election is expected to be the freest in decades, but polls won't be held in areas wracked by ethnic violence and many Muslims, including more than 1 million ethnic Rohingya who are denied citizenship, aren't eligible to vote. Photographs by Brent Lewin for Bloomberg

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy is widely expected to dominate parliamentary elections, if the vote is free and fair.

The election is expected to be the most transparent since the country's former military rulers began dabbling with multi-party voting in 1990.

Yoma beer is bottled at the Myanmar Carlsberg Co. plant in Bago. The end of direct military rule opened Myanmar to the outside world. Foreign investment rose tenfold to $4.1 billion between 2009 and 2014, according to Chatham House.

The nation's first Western fast-food outlet, KFC, opened this year next to a Hindu temple.

There are growing concerns that millions of voters could be disenfranchised due to errors on voter lists. The election commission says it can only guarantee the accuracy of 30 percent of the roster.

Customers shop for fruit at a roadside vendor in Yangon.

Laborers work at a construction site at the Star City residential complex, developed by Yoma Strategic Holdings Ltd., in the township of Thanlyin in Yangon Region.

Prospective buyers look at a show apartment at the Star City residential complex. The influx of foreign investment has driven up property prices and threatens to widen inequality.

A Buddhist monk holds an alms bowl in Yangon.

Ever since President Thein Sein laid out his dramatic reform program, observers have debated how genuine the country's transformation is.

About 30 million of Myanmar's 52 million people will be eligible to vote for three quarters of the 664 seats in the two houses of the legislature. The remaining 25 percent are reserved for military-backed candidates.

The junta-designed constitution awards a quarter of all seats in the parliament automatically to the military, and the constitution can't be altered without a 75 percent majority.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has agreed to reduce port duties to boost shipping across the Bay of Bengal and backed a plan for trans-national highways and railways that would pass through Myanmar to Thailand and markets beyond.

Skeptics say the military, which guarantees itself a quarter of the seats in parliament and thus an effective veto over constitutional amendments, is unlikely to give up any further influence. Even if Suu Kyi's party wins in November, its ability to effect sweeping change will be constrained.

Annual growth has averaged more than 7 percent since the 2010 election, helped by foreign investment that financed infrastructure and boosted low-cost manufacturing, alongside an increase in tourism.

While companies from Total SA to Telenor Asa to Coca-Cola Co. poured in, uncertainty about investment rules, the poor condition of infrastructure and concern about the political situation have damped some enthusiasm.