Military-ruled Burma has held its first election in 20 years, yesterday, November 7th, but opposition parties alleged widespread fraud and major world powers criticized the vote as neither free nor fair.
Burmese state media announced some results hours after the polls closed Sunday, declaring victories for several military-allied candidates who ran unopposed. Elections were held for a two-chamber parliament and 14 regional assemblies.
Reports from the commercial capital, Rangoon, said voter turnout appeared low and streets were quiet as riot police patrolled key intersections.
The Burmese military barred most foreign journalists and international observers from monitoring the vote. Authorities detained a Japanese journalist with the Tokyo-based agency APF News who crossed into the southeastern town of Myawaddy from Thailand to cover the election.
Burma’s constitution reserves one-quarter of the seats in the national Parliament for the military junta that has governed the country for almost five decades. Two military-allied groups fielded the vast majority of candidates for the remaining seats.
Candidates for the main pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Party include Burmese generals who retired from the military this year to stand in the election. The other pro-military group, the National Unity Party, includes supporters of late Burmese military ruler Ne Win.
Small opposition parties fielded candidates for a fraction of seats in the election. Some accused accused Burmese authorities of pressuring voters to pick military-backed candidates. Others expressed hope the election will enable gradual progress toward democracy.
A Western journalist in Rangoon tells VOA that civilians who tried to observe the voting process and the counting of ballots were turned away from polling stations. She also reported hearing of multiple cases of voter intimidation.
U.S. President Barack Obama and British Foreign Secretary William Hague denounced the election as neither free nor fair in separate statements Sunday.
Speaking on a visit to Mumbai, India, Mr. Obama said the people of Burma have been denied the right to determine their own destiny for too long. Hague said the election will result in the return to power of what he called a “brutal regime.”
Burma’s main opposition party boycotted Sunday’s vote because of what it said were unfair rules. The National League for Democracy won the country’s last elections in 1990 but the military refused to let it take office. Burma’s military dissolved the party earlier this year.
Many NLD members are in prison or under house arrest, including leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in some form of detention for 15 of the past 20 years. She was offered the opportunity to cast a ballot, but refused and urged supporters to boycott the election.
A group of exiled Burmese activists protested the election in a rally Sunday in the Thai town of Mae Sot, near the Burmese border.