Opposition cries foul over Burma (Myanmar) election

Unofficial results say the pro-junta party won 80 percent of the vote in the Burma (Myanmar) election. Critics charge systematic rigging and voter intimidation.

In this Nov.7 photo taken during a poll monitoring tour for Myanmar journalists and foreign diplomats, an official from the election commission prepares to count votes at a local polling station in Myitkyina in Kachin state, northern Myanmar.

A landslide victory for a pro-regime party in Burma’s election has stirred anger among opponents, who claim there was widespread cheating in Sunday’s controversial ballot. Unofficial results suggest that the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) could take about 80 percent of seats in the new parliament. This reverses earlier forecasts of a sizeable opposition bloc that could check the executive’s power.

While the victory was widely expected, as the government-supported USDP was contesting every seat, political observers say the scale points to systematic rigging of the results. They say that in some seats, apparent opposition wins were overturned by the 11th-hour arrival of uncounted advance ballots that tipped the balance toward the USDP.

Western governments have roundly condemned the election as a farce. But China, a key military ally, welcomed the vote. A government spokesman said Tuesday that the ballot had been “smooth and steady.” Vietnam issued a statement on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to which Burma belongs, calling the election a “significant step forward."

No official results have been released. In its Tuesday news program, Burmese state television made no reference to the polls, Reuters reported.

Opposition leaders have already filed complaints with authorities and are expected to demand recounts or reruns in disputed seats. Some losing candidates have refused to sign the official tallies, which is required under the election law, say observers. The conservative National Unity Party, which ran second to the USDP and whose candidates are mostly aligned with the previous military regime, has also said it would contest the results.

“We clearly saw how the ballots were manipulated. We have evidence,” Yuza Maw Htoon, an independent candidate in Rangoon who lost to the USDP, told the Monitor in a telephone interview. She says pro-democracy groups were still discussing how to press for redress and criticized the election commission as biased.

"I admit defeat but it was not fair play. It was full of malpractice and fraud and we will try to expose them and tell the people," Democratic Party leader Thu Wai told Reuters. Khin Maung Swe, leader the larger pro-democracy party National Democratic Force, also told Reuters: "We took the lead at the beginning but the USDP later came up with so-called advance votes and that changed the results completely, so we lost."

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So far, none of the parties have called for street protests, which are illegal in Burma and have been brutally suppressed in the past. Still, more than 10,000 ethnic minorities have fled Burma amid violence that came one day after the rare elections.

A Burmese scholar living overseas, who declined to be named, said the election was never intended as a true test of public opinion. Instead, it was engineered to create a new system in which the opposition would have a small voice. “The question was always how small a voice was going to be allowed. It now looks like it will be smaller than even some cynics had hoped,” he says.

In a report issued Monday, an independent monitoring group described the use of advance votes as “a serious concern” and pointed to collusion between election officials and USDP members in collecting the ballots. The group also highlighted other voting irregularities, such as the intimidation of voters who feared reprisals if they voted against the government.

The opposition may also have suffered from a boycott campaign by the former party of imprisoned democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, which refused to participate. Ms. Suu Kyi’s current term of house arrest ends Nov 13. There has been no official announcement on her release, but her lawyer has said that he expected her to be freed.

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