YANGON, Nov 7 (DPA) - Myanmar's military-ruled population voted Sunday in the first election in more than 20 years, designed to introduce "discipline-flourishing democracy".
An estimated 29 million people were eligible to vote. Election officials said they expected turnout to be at least 60 per cent, compared with about 70 per cent when the last polls were held on May 27, 1990.
The election has been rejected as a "sham" by most western democracies.
In New Delhi, US President Barack Obama said Myanmar's elections will be "anything but free and fair".
Others see the polls as a first step in the right direction.
"This election is a good start for the country," Israeli Ambassador Yaron Mayer said. "After the election, Myanmar may change gradually."
Mayer was among diplomats invited to view voting at selected polling stations in Yangon and several other locations. There were 40,000 polling booths nationwide.
The junta barred international monitoring, but offered a token tour of selected stations by Yangon-based diplomats and journalists.
Several ambassadors refused the offer, including those representing the European Union, the US and Australia.
"We decided that the conditions imposed by the authorities as regards to the tour were not quite to our liking," said David Lipman, EU ambassador to Myanmar.
Lipman described the situation in Yangon as "calm", with no signs of military presence at polling booths in the former capital.
No violence was reported Sunday, except for the seizure of a police station and post office in Myawaddy, on the Thai-Myanmar border by a Karen rebel faction.
The junta refused to release opposition leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest for the polls, and rigged election laws to exclude her National League for Democracy (NLD) Opposition party from competing.
Suu Kyi, whose current sentence is due to expire Nov 13, has spent 15 of the past 20 years under house arrest. The NLD won the 1990 election by a landslide, but has been blocked from power by the military for the past two decades.
The NLD urged its followers to boycott Sunday's vote. That stance has divided the pro-democracy forces.
There were reports that the regime had threatened those who do not vote with reprisals and a loss of voting rights in future polls.
Junta chief Senior General Than Shwe vowed that the polls will usher in a "discipline-flourishing democracy".
The military appeared to have assured the victory of its proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, along with the regime-friendly National Unity Party.
Those two parties accounted for nearly two-thirds of the 3,071 registered candidates, making it mathematically impossible for the pro-democracy parties to win a majority.
Under the Myanmar Constitution 25 percent of all parliamentary seats are reserved for military appointees.
"This means that the USDP only has to win 26 percent of the contested votes and the military will have a majority," said Win Min, a Myanmar political analyst.
The National Democratic Force, a breakaway from Suu Kyi's NLD, could afford to field only 160 candidates, the largest number among the pro-democracy groups.
There may yet be a few surprises in polls. In the Shan State, in the north-eastern region, some people told DPA that they had voted for the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, which has fielded 157 candidates nationwide.
A total of 37 parties and 82 independents were contesting for 1,159 seats in three houses of parliament: upper, lower and the regions/states chamber.