Myanmar counts votes amid criticism

Low turnout and fraud claims mar first poll in 20 years in which two military-backed parties ran virtually unopposed.

Myanmar observers said Sunday’s election was a sham, and criticised it as being neither free nor fair [AFP]

Myanmar’s secretive military-ruled government have given no sign of when results from the country’s first election in two decades would be released, though it’s almost certain power will remain in
the hands of the junta and its political proxies.

What is unclear is whether the vote marks a small step toward democratic rule.

While most observers have rejected the poll as a sham engineered to solidify military control, even some critics say having a parliament for the first time in 22 years could provide an opening for eventual change.

Early results broadcast on state media on Sunday favoured one of the two military-backed parties that ran virtually unopposed.

State television announced that the Union Solidarity and Development Party [USDP] had won five of eight upper house and eight of 12 lower house seats, the rest going to minor parties.

Candidates ran uncontested for all but two of those seats.

The USDP is widely expected to win, going against the other military-backed contestant, the National Unity Party [NUP].

A quarter of the seats in the two-chamber national parliament and regional legislatures are reserved for military appointees regardless of the outcome.

‘Robbing votes’

Final results may not be known for a day or more but complex election rules stifled any prospect of a pro-democracy upset in a vote witnesses said suffered from low turnout and irregularities.

By late Sunday night, some of the opposition politicians who took part in the elections were expressing dismay at what they called widespread cheating.

Al Jazeera’s special correspondent reports on the difficulty in ascertaining the true will of the people

The generals and the USDP “are so shameless in their utter craving for power that they brazenly rig votes with complete disregard for the people and the credibility of the election”, Khin Maung Swe, a senior official of the opposition National Democratic Force [NDF], said.

“They are desperately robbing votes.”

The NDF is a splinter wing of the main opposition National League for Democracy [NLD] led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, which chose to be de-registered under Myanmar’s new election laws.

Several parties say many voters were already strong-armed into casting ballots for the USDP in a system of advance voting.

Khin Maung Swe said there were also problems with voter rolls and ballot counting, though he gave no details.

Barack Obama, the US president, said on Sunday during a visit to India that the Myanmar vote would be “anything but free and fair”, while Britain said the election would “mean the return to power of a brutal regime”.

‘No change expected’

Al Jazeera’s special correspondent, reporting from Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, said this was an election in which the military-backed parties were guaranteed a win.

“This election is not expected to bring widespread democracy, but it does look like there will be NDF representatives sitting in the new parliament when it convenes in February next year,” she said.

The next process, our special correspondent said, is the election of a president and two vice-presidents.

Election Facts
  29 million eligible voters
  40,000 polling stations
  3,071 candidates from 37 political parties
  82 independent candidates
  494 seats in the two-chamber parliament
  665 seats spread among 14 regional parliaments

She said there was speculation that General Than Shwe, the country’s military ruler, may offer himself for the top post.

The military government refused to allow international monitors or foreign media into the country for the election, and local journalists faced strict restrictions on visiting polling stations unless on an
official tour.

In 1990 Aung San Suu Kyi swept the NDL to power in what was widely considered a free and fair election, but the result was never recognised by the military generals. She has been detained for most of the past 20 years and supported a boycott of Sunday’s polls.

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Washington, Shin Win, who was among the winners of the 1990 vote, said the NLD as a big party had no choice but to stay out of this election.

“This is not only about the voting but also the constitution as well as other rules and regulations that are all flawed and unjust,” he said.

Shin Win said there were promising young leaders in the NLD but it was a tough fight going against military informers and intelligence. He said this was “not a normal way of fighting politics like in other countries”.

He said for the majority of the people in the country, the situation remains the same, or much worse, despite the seemingly rapid economic changes.

“Aung San Suu Kyi will remain relevant and will continue leading the people,” Shin Win said.

“They have trust in her and she can rally support any time. That’s why the generals want her to leave the country.”

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies


Voters exercise democratic rights for the first time in 20 years but the truth remains elusive under military rule.

7 Nov 2010
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