Burma: Army-backed parties set to sweep rare poll

by Aung Hla Tun

(November 08, Yangon, Sri Lanka Guardian) Two military-backed parties looked set to prevail on Monday in Myanmar's first election in 20 years, a day after a choreographed vote marred by fraud charges and apathy, and condemned as flawed by Washington and London.

Complex election rules thwarted any chance of a pro-democracy upset as Myanmar ends half a century of direct army rule. State TV said voters "freely and happily" cast ballots, but witness accounts suggested low turn-out and voting irregularities.

Official results trickled out over state media, showing the military and its proxy parties ahead, but a clear picture of who won control of parliament could take a day or longer in the reclusive country where timely release of information is rare.

Many who abstained from the vote expressed doubt they could alter the authoritarian status quo in a poll that both President Barack Obama and British Foreign Secretary William Hague described in separate statements as neither free nor fair.

"Many aspects of these elections are not compatible with internationally accepted standards," the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said in a statement.

"The EU calls on the authorities to ensure that these elections mark the start of a more inclusive phase."

State television said the election was conducted "with a full sense of inclusiveness" and the country's rulers were "handing over sovereign power to the people, which is the ultimate owner."

"The nation will be able to enjoy economic development, state stability and improvement in international relations," it said.

The vote will not bring an end to Western sanctions but may reduce Myanmar's isolation at a time when neighboring China has dramatically increased investment in natural gas and other resources in the former British colony also known as Burma.

Some analysts say that despite its flaws, the election will create a framework for a democratic system that might yield changes in years ahead.

It is the first election since 1990, when Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy beat the army-backed party in a landslide. The junta ignored the result.

Suu Kyi, detained for 15 of the past 21 years, urged a boycott of this poll, saying she "would not dream" of taking part. She could take the spotlight this week, however, ahead of the expiry of her house arrest on Saturday, November 13.

Her release could energize pro-democracy forces and the military will be wary of her supporters massing.

"Only five days more," read a banner hanging outside the headquarters of her now-defunct party.

Source: Agencies
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