Military-backed party wins Burma election in landslide

Wed, Nov 10, 2010, 00:00

A POLITICAL party backed by Burma’s ruling military junta scored an unsurprising landslide win in the country’s first poll in 20 years after a carefully orchestrated election aimed at maintaining its authoritarian grip on the country.

Conceding defeat, the few opposition parties allowed to take part said many public sector employees had been forced to support the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) ahead of Sunday’s vote.

There has been a host of complaints about the conduct of the poll lodged with an election commission, but with some 2,200 political activists in jail, no one is expecting a just outcome.

US president Barack Obama said the election had been stolen, but authoritarian regimes in the region welcomed the poll. China, one of Burma’s few allies and which covets its neighbour’s energy reserves and resources, said the election had been “peaceful and successful”. Russia also welcomed the election.

While counting was still going on, government troops mopped up pockets of resistance among regional rebels who were fighting against the election. There had been fighting in an eastern border town, which killed at least 10 people and sent about 17,000 civilians fleeing into neighbouring Thailand. As the conflict faded, many refugees returned to Burma, while Karen rebels – a leading ethnic opposition group – were repelled by the Burmese army.

Few eyebrows were raised among the international community representatives watching the elections when the USDP, which is seen as being controlled by 77-year-old senior general Than Shwe, said it had taken as many as 80 per cent of the available seats.

But the largest opposition party, the National Democratic Force, said the government parties had introduced “advance votes” which rendered any gains they had made null and void. The second largest party, the Democratic Party (Myanmar), also conceded defeat. While most western observers and commentators see the election as a sham, they are watching to see the impact it has on the house arrest of Nobel laureate and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party was disbanded for refusing to take part in an election it said was unfair. She had urged supporters to boycott the poll.

Ms Suu Kyi (65), has spent 15 of the past 21 years in detention but is due to be freed when her latest term of imprisonment in her Rangoon home expires on Saturday. There are fears the junta will try to extend her jail term.

The US, Britain, the European Union and Japan repeated calls this week to free the democracy leader, whose National League for Democracy beat an army-backed party by a landslide in 1990, a result ignored by the junta.

The situation in Burma has long been an impediment to the southeast Asian region’s expansion because it complicates relations between the ASEAN group, which includes Burma, and the West, which has long imposed sanctions because of Burma’s efforts to stop democracy, and its shoddy human rights record.