Achara Ashayagachat and AFP
7 November 2010
Burma’s military regime and its political proxies faced growing accusations yesterday of threats and intimidation on the eve of the country’s controversial first election in two decades.
Up to 29 million eligible Burmese voters will go to the polling stations today, less than a week before opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to be released from house arrest. Her National League for Democracy (NLD) has boycotted the poll.
Her youngest son, Kim Aris, who lives in Britain, planned to apply for a visa to Burma at the Burmese embassy in Bangkok tomorrow to visit Mrs Suu Kyi after the release, according to the BBC’s Burmese language service. He is staying at a Chao Phraya riverside hotel.
The Burmese embassy said yesterday it was not aware of the visa application.
The junta’s detention of Mrs Suu Kyi expires on Saturday. Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win said in the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Hanoi on Oct 28 that the Burmese regime will free her after the election. Mrs Suu Kyi swept her party to power in 1990 but the results were never recognised by the ruling generals.
This time, two parties aligned to the military _ the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the National Unity Party (NUP) _ are together fielding about two-thirds of the total candidates.
The Democratic Party (Burma) and National Democratic Force, a splinter party of the NLD, which is contesting the election, accused the USDP on Friday of illegally collecting advance ballots by coercion and intimidation.
Signs of voter intimidation were also reported by the Chin Human Rights Organisation, which said that in a ward in Chin State, in western Burma, one of the polling stations was at an army checkpoint. ”How can people feel free to vote for the party of their choice if soldiers are watching them?” said programme director Salai Za Uk Ling.
According to exile news website The Irrawaddy, two major ethnic minority parties have threatened to contest the result if concerns over alleged USDP abuses are not addressed.
The All Mon Region Democracy Party, based in Mon State in the southeast, and the Rakhine National Development Party (RNDP), in Rakhine State in the west, have also raised complaints.
”If the USDP wins due to the influence and resources of the government, ethnic and other pro-democracy parties will boycott the election results,” RNDP chairman Aye Maung was quoted as saying.
Local authorities have allegedly helped the USDP, formed by ministers who left the military in April, to force people to vote early and for the junta party.
”We have learned that the USDP, together with ward authorities, is trying to get advance votes by cheating, bribing or threatening people,” said a letter from the Democratic Party to the Union Election Commission in the capital Naypyidaw.
The ruling regime’s proxy party enjoys huge advantages in the polls: a quarter of seats in the new legislature are reserved for the army, while opposition parties have suffered major obstacles.
Many people in Burma, a country where almost one-third of the population lives below the poverty line, prioritise basic needs over politics, while a lack of choice has fuelled disillusionment in the election.
In many constituencies the poll is a two-horse race between the USDP and the NUP, the successor to late dictator Ne Win’s party.
Foreign election observers and international media have been barred from entering the country for the election.
European diplomats have also snubbed official polling station visits, declining an invitation to join what British ambassador Andrew Heyn has already dismissed as a ”choreographed tour”.
In a speech reproduced in state newspaper The New Light of Myanmar on the election eve, Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein urged citizens to vote, and not to ”tarnish the image of the state”.