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Shortcomings and Fake

Suu Kyi freed, but anger high at rigged vote (1)

by Yu-Kyung Lee, Bangkok, 18 November 2010

“The whole process was a fake!”, said Khin Maung Swe, a 68-year-old leader of the National Democratic Force (NDF), a break away from the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi. “We just won 16 seats [out of the 163 the NDF contested] because of the so-called advance votes."

Khin Maung Swe expressed outraged at process of counting votes in the Burma’s elections held on November 7 for the first time in 20 years. Opponents of the military junta said it rigged many “advance votes”, votes cast before the official date of the election, through threats and bribes.

Unlike the NDF, the NLD boycotted the poll, arguing the election would not be fair and free. Regardless of the poll’s outcome, the military would keep control of key ministries. Under the constitution, a quarter of the 440 parliamentary seats are reserved for unelected military officials.

In May, the ruling junta passed a law that banned anyone serving a prison term for belonging to a political party from running for office. This excluded Burma’s more than 2000 political prisoners.

Unlike the NDF, the NLD boycotted the poll, arguing the election would not be fair and free. Regardless of the poll’s outcome, the military would keep control of key ministries. Under the constitution, a quarter of the 440 parliamentary seats are reserved for unelected military officials.

In May, the ruling junta passed a law that banned anyone serving a prison term for belonging to a political party from running for office. This excluded Burma’s more than 2000 political prisoners.

NLD Headquarter in Rangoon Burma.

NLD Headquarter in Rangoon, photo: Yu-Kyung Lee

photo: Yu-Kyung Lee

The regime has now released Suu Kyi on Saturday, 6 days after the elections. All the flaws of  the votes seems to be pulled away in the media for the time being, as the release of Aung San Suu Kyi is prioritized in newspapers and broadcasts.   

“We will register our complaint with Election Commission”, Khin Maung Swe told me in a phone interview two days after the elections. When asked if he trusted the commission, he answered: “How can we trust the junta-appointed commission? But we should take action whatever we can.”

In our first phone interview, on voting day, Khin Maung Swe optimistically said he thought 50-70% of the NDF’s 163 candidates could win.

He told me then: “We do know the election is not fair and free. But democracy is not an abstract matter, it should be tangible. This election is a starting point.”

Khin Maung Swe’s hopes did not seem to be an illusion, assuming the counting process was transparent. However, that hope has proven to be an illusion.

“We will register our complaint with Election Commission”, Khin Maung Swe told me in a phone interview two days after the elections. When asked if he trusted the commission, he answered: “How can we trust the junta-appointed commission? But we should take action whatever we can.”

In our first phone interview, on voting day, Khin Maung Swe optimistically said he thought 50-70% of the NDF’s 163 candidates could win.

He told me then: “We do know the election is not fair and free. But democracy is not an abstract matter, it should be tangible. This election is a starting point.”

Khin Maung Swe’s hopes did not seem to be an illusion, assuming the counting process was transparent. However, that hope has proven to be an illusion.

“Many people voted for NDF. People like it, because it will say right thing for our future” said Kyi Maung (name changed) a resident in Rangoon, the former capital and biggest city in Burma.

“But it’s failed, because [the pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)] bought a lot of advance votes.” He added.  

For Kyi Maung, this was his ever election in his “30-plus” years. He was interested to take the opportunity to learn who was who and what was what.

But, Kyi Maung said, “The Lady’s party didn’t participate!”, in reference to Suu Kyi and the NLD. He said people would have voted NLD if it had taken part.

Another resident in Rangoon, a lawyer, chose to boycott the elections. “I cannot endorse the 2008 constitution”, he said. “It is a military constitution.”

According to one NGO worker in Rangoon, most people were not clear who is running or who they would vote for. However, he said “I have not met a single person that wants to vote for USDP. Most strongly favor the NDF.”

Nevertheless, the junta-backed USDP secured for itself a “landslide victory”. The USDP has grabbed a number of seats, which democratic parties could have expected to win, thanks to its control of advance votes.

The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) issued a statement on November 9 calling on the junta to “urgently clarify why the counting process was not made transparent to the public and the media beginning with the first advance voting period”.

“This is the worst election in Asia” said ANFREL director Somsri Hananumtasuk, who has monitored many elections in Asia.

Asked if ANFREL ever requested permission from the junta to monitor of the election, she said: “No. Why should we endorse the election by monitoring it?”

The general elections in Burma, sometimes called “the generals’ elections”, is the fifth step in the junta’s “Seven Step Roadmap to Disciplined Democracy”. This process began in 1993, when the junta called all parties to participate in a national convention to draft a new constitution.

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* photo (left): NLD members were gathering at their Headquarter in Rangoon to celebrate Suu Kyi's 63rd birthday in 2008. However, USDA (now USDP) thugs came there to disturb the gathering USDA has transformed into a political party named USDP, which claimed to win majority in the latest election.

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