07 November 2010

Voting under way in Myanmar

Polling stations are open in Myanmar's first election in 20 years, a vote that has been criticised as undemocratic.
Polls have opened under tight security in Myanmar's first election in 20 years, but few expect it to bring any real change in power, with the military and its proxies likely to dominate parliament and senior positions.
In the commercial hub of Yangon, armed riot police stood guard at near-empty polling booths or patrolled streets in convoys of military trucks, part of a clampdown that includes bans on foreign media and on outside election monitors.
The carefully choreographed end of direct army rule, marred by complex rules that stifled major pro-democracy forces, enters its final stage in a race largely between two powerful military-backed parties running virtually unopposed.
Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi remains locked up and two pro-military parties are together fielding about two-thirds of the  total candidates, leaving the splintered opposition with little  chance of success.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner swept her party to power in 1990 but the result was never recognised by the ruling generals. She has been detained for most of the past 20 years and is supporting a boycott of Sunday's election.
The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is the military's political party, fielding 27 incumbent ministers, top-heavy with recently retired generals.
The USDP dominated the campaign, contesting all 1,158 seats up for grabs. Its only real rival is the National Unity Party (NUP), another vehicle for the military, running in 980 seats.
Early fraud charges
At least six parties have lodged complaints with the election commission, claiming hundreds of state workers were forced to vote for the pro-military USDP in advance balloting.
On Saturday, the All Mon Region Democracy Party and the Rakhine National Development Party (RNDP) accused the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) of "cheating" and "threatening" voters.
Fact box
  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
They said they plan on contesting the election results if their complaints aren't investigated.
"There has been widespread fraud and malpractice committed by the USDP in advance voting across the country," Khin Maung Swe, leader of the pro-democracy National Democratic Force, the largest opposition party, said.
"We democratic parties will have to take appropriate action after the elections," he added.
The USDP, formed by former military ministers in April, is accused of being helped by local authorities in forcing people to vote, in advance of the start of Sunday's election, for the military-backed party.
Twenty-five per cent of seats in all chambers are reserved for serving generals. That means an army-backed party needs to win only 26 per cent of the remaining seats for the junta's allies to control the country's national legislature.
Khin Maung Swe, a spokesman for the opposition National Democratic Force, spoke to Al Jazeera from Yangon.
"If one or two persons can get into the parliament, then we make a voice for the people," he said.
"We know that after so many years of resistance, it does not work and we need to work from the inside. This can only be achieved inside the parliament and not on the streets."
Rare election
Nearly 40 parties are contesting places in a bicameral national parliament and 14 regional assemblies. Except the USDP and NUP, none have enough candidates to earn any real stake due to a host of restrictions such as high fees for each candidate.
Still, some analysts say the election will create a framework for a democratic system that might yield changes in years ahead in a country bestowed with rich natural resources and located strategically between rising powers China and India.
Zaw Oo, Myanmar analyst at Chang Mai University, told Al Jazeera that elections are quite rare because elections were last held 20 years ago.
"The low voter turnout is a reality that opposition parties are facing but we have to wait and see the election results," he said.
"We hope that these will be out soon."
The vote will not bring an end to Western sanctions but could reduce Myanmar's isolation in Asia at a time when neighbouring China has dramatically increased investments in natural gas and other resources in the former British colony also known as Burma.
"You look at Burma holding flawed elections today that once again expose the abuses of the military junta," Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, said in a speech in Melbourne, Australia.
"It's heartbreaking because the people of Burma deserve so much better," she said.



  2. they are all same, in every country. wanting to control power by all/any means, irrespective of what happens to people, whom they fleece all the time and manipulate at the election time, through divide and rule methods.