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Opinion
An election, but not as we know it
The people of Myanmar have experienced the military regime's idea of a 'flourishing, disciplined democracy'.
Last Modified: 08 Nov 2010 12:59 GMT
The people of Myanmar have experienced the military regime's 'flourishing, disciplined democracy' [GALLO/GETTY]

Myanmar's military regime claims to have introduced a "flourishing, disciplined democracy" and yesterday the people of Myanmar were given the opportunity to experience it. Except, of course, for the fact that the outcome of the election has been fixed - with the military generals choosing to steal a victory in spite of the will of the people.

Marred by widespread fraud and low voter turnout, several opposition parties have now said that they will not recognise the results of the election unless the country's election commission - which was handpicked by the regime - counts the votes in a transparent manner.

But even before the election took place, the whole process was not only deeply flawed but also highly undemocratic. A prevailing climate of fear, intimidation and harassment, rampant advance voting and the absence of independent media and monitors all indicated that the military and its proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), would remain in power.

The election was held while more than 2,000 political prisoners remained behind bars and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest. And while there are rumours that she will be freed soon, fighting between government troops and Karen rebels along the Thailand-Myanmar border and the rising political temperature of the country make this seem unlikely.

Military rule, civilian clothing

Long before election day, critics wrote off this central part of the regime's "road map" to "disciplined democracy" as a charade intended to maintain the status quo and to perpetuate military rule in civilian clothing. The military is clearly not prepared to return to the barracks.

Prior to the election, the message from some groups inside and outside of Myanmar and the country's vocal exiled media was clear - do not vote for the military party and its allies. In fact, the phrase "anyone but them" has gained a great deal of popularity recently, revealing the extent to which the regime remains deeply unpopular.

This also explains why the regime has chosen to fix the election and, indeed, there have been no surprises so far with initial official poll results showing victories for several USDP candidates contesting the 1,159 seats in the bicameral national parliament and 14 regional parliaments.

Widespread cases of voters being forced or coerced into casting advance ballots is expected to produce a landslide victory for the USDP.

The officials winners so far include General Shwe Mann, the junta's third-highest ranking official who ran in Naypyidaw for the USDP, defeating his only rival, and Nyan Win, the country's foreign minister, who was announced the winner in Pegu Division since he had no opponent and who recently promised his counterparts at the Asean Summit in Hanoi that the election would be free and fair (although, of course, everyone knew he was not telling the truth).

International reaction

Spokespeople for the National Democratic Force (NDF), the Democratic Party (Myanmar) and the All Mon Region Democracy Party (AMRDP) have said that vote-counting was seriously flawed. Several witnesses have said that ballot boxes full of advance votes were brought into polling stations for counting after the polls had closed.

It is believed that in many constituencies contested by pro-democracy and ethnic political parties, the local populace demonstrated their contempt for the USDP by casting their votes for any other candidate. But while they may have won the majority of the votes, it is assumed that opposition candidates will never be allowed to take their seats in parliament, because the vote-count was manipulated beyond recognition by the stuffing of advance votes into ballot boxes.

As there are no serial numbers on the ballot papers, no one knows how many ballots were printed by the election commission and, as a consequence, election commission officials will have been unhindered in adding "phantom" ballots to the count.

Western governments have maintained their stand that the election lacks international legitimacy, suggesting that sanctions and diplomatic isolation will continue in the post-election period. Barack Obama, the US president, denounced the vote, while the EU has said that the authorities did not take the necessary steps to ensure a free, fair and inclusive electoral process.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said Myanmar had missed an opportunity to begin a transition to democracy and national reconciliation by holding "severely flawed" elections. She added that the Obama administration would still speak to the country's military leaders but would maintain "rigorous sanctions" against them as long as they continue to hold political prisoners, abuse human rights and ignore dialogue with the opposition. Clinton renewed the appeal for the release of Suu Kyi, along with all other political prisoners.

These elections are a black mark on Myanmar's modern political history, offering a lesson to some naïve international observers and neighbours.

Aung Zaw is the founder and editor of the Irrawaddy magazine based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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