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Asia-pacific

Voter turnout low in first election in two decades

Video by By France 24

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-11-07

The Burmese headed to the polls Sunday, as the country holds its first election in two decades. Many voters, however, decided to stay at home as an act of defiance against what is widely regarded as a sham election.

AFP - Myanmar voted Sunday in its first election in 20 years with complaints of intimidation adding to fears the poll is a sham to create a facade of democracy after decades of iron-fisted military rule.

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.
  
Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi 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.
  
As voting got underway, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the flawed elections "expose the abuses of the military junta".
  
Security was tight with armed police patrolling the streets of the main city Yangon. Shops in the capital Naypyidaw were ordered to close on Friday night and not reopen until after the vote.
  
Despite the generals' unpopularity, their political proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), was widely expected to win, helped by huge financial and campaigning advantages, as well as a climate of fear.
  
"This is a party that is hated but the general understanding among the people is that the USDP is going to win," said Aung Naing Oo, an independent Myanmar expert based in Thailand.
  
It is unclear when the results will be announced.
  
In many constituencies the poll is a two-horse race between the USDP and the National Unity Party (NUP), which is the successor to late dictator Ne Win's party and is also closely aligned with the military.
  
A quarter of the seats in the two-chamber national parliament and regional legislatures are reserved for military appointees whatever the outcome.
  
Two opposition parties have accused the USDP -- formed by ministers who retired from the military in April -- of illegally collecting advance ballots by coercion.
  
Democratic Party chairman Thu Wai told AFP on Friday that his party was "deeply concerned" about reports of voter intimidation across the country and had filed an official complaint.
  
"We have learnt that the USDP together with ward authorities are trying to get advance votes by cheating, bribing or threatening people," the party wrote in a letter to the country's election commission.
  
Signs of voter intimidation were also reported by the Chin Human Rights Organisation, which said that in a ward in Chin State in western Myanmar one of the polling stations was at an army checkpoint.
  
The generals were also feared to be intentionally blocking access to information. Internet users in the secretive country have reported slow connections and frequent outages for more than a week.
  
The junta has refused to allow international monitors or foreign media into the country for the election and local journalists face strict restrictions on visiting polling stations unless on an official tour.
  
"I just voted but there was a power blackout so I couldn't see well. I voted for the lion (USDP) as well as the paddy (NUP)," 56-year-old Hla Hla Yi told an AFP reporter on a trip organised by the Myanmar authorities, referring to the parties' logos.
 
"I cannot say how I voted and I do not know how many parties are contesting but I like the Democratic Party," said Kyaw Swe, a 53-year-old vendor. "I hope good things will come from the election."
 
The NUP is the wildcard in the poll and could hold the balance of power in parliament, but it remains unclear whether it is a genuine rival to the USDP or just another proxy of the military regime.
  
More than 29 million people were eligible to vote but it was uncertain how many would actually cast ballots, with many in the impoverished nation apathetic and disillusioned about the process.
  
"I don't know about any of the parties. I will vote how my mother tells me," said Myo Zaw, a 22-year-old newspaper delivery boy.
  
The intentions of junta chief Than Shwe remain shrouded in mystery. There has been speculation that he may step down as commander-in-chief of the armed forces but few expect him to relinquish the real power.
  
The regime has said that Suu Kyi may be freed after the poll, as it attempts to deflect a barrage of criticism over conditions for the vote. The 65-year-old is just one of about 2,200 political prisoners in the autocratic nation.
 

Date created : 2010-11-07

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