The party of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to win the largest share of votes cast by an electorate of about 30m, who chose from among thousands of candidates standing for parliament and regional assemblies.
But a legacy of military rule means she cannot become president after the election, even if her National League for Democracy wins a landslide.
As counting began across the country, early indications from observers were that voting was mostly trouble-free and there were only isolated reports of irregularities.
“From the dozens of people we have spoken to since 6am today, everybody feels they have been able to vote for whoever they wanted to in security and safety,” said Durudee Sirichanya, an international observer from the Secretariat of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Religious tension, fanned by Buddhist nationalists whose actions have intimidated Myanmar’s Muslim minority, marred the election campaign. Among those excluded from voting were around 1m Rohingya Muslims who are effectively stateless in their own land.
Still, there was excitement among voters about the first general election since a quasi-civilian government replaced military rule in 2011.
“I’ve done my bit for change, for the emergence of democracy,” said 55-year-old former teacher Daw Myint after casting her vote for the NLD in Yangon.
Suu Kyi’s car inched through a scrum of news photographers outside the Yangon polling station where the 70-year-old Nobel peace laureate came to vote. She was stony-faced as bodyguards shouted at people to move aside.
Most of the well-wishers gathered there were lucky to get more than a glimpse of the garland in her hair. A cry of “Victory! Victory!” went up from the crowd as she went inside.
Many voters voiced doubts the military would accept the outcome of the vote if Suu Kyi’s party is victorious.
But military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing said yesterday there would be no re-run of the last free vote in 1990, when Suu Kyi won but the army ignored the result. She spent most of the next 20 years under house arrest before her release in 2010.
Asked how he would feel if the NLD won this time, he told reporters: “If the people choose them, there is no reason we would not accept it.”