Sunday, November 7, 2010

Myanmar Election ends counting begins

General election in Myanmar, on dawn of Sunday, conduced peacefully as polling booths closed at 4 p.m, and the counting of votes to be followed immediately in the presence of the public.Polling at many booths even closed earlier with counting of votes already started as the designated number of electorates had completely finished casting of votes ahead of closing hours, polling stations said, citing sources with Shan state's capital of Taunggyi.

The ballots include advance ballots cast days ahead for persons with inconvenience as stipulated in the election law.The counting of votes by the township election subcommissions took place in the presence of parliamentary candidates or their election agents and the public.As per the election law, the township election subcommissions are to submit the valid votes to the region or state commissions at higher level which is expected to declare the elected parliamentary candidates later.The first-in-two-decade multi-party general election began across Myanmar at 6 a.m. on Sunday and a total of 29 million qualified voters across the country cast ballots at 60,000 polling stations under secret polling system.

Nationally, a total of over 3,000 parliamentary candidates from 37 political parties including 82 independents took part in the competition across the country's seven regions and seven ethnic states for 1,159 parliamentary seats, of which 326 are reserved for the house of representatives, 168 for the house of Nationalities and 665 for region or state parliament.

The house of representatives and the house of nationalities make up the Union Parliament.In Yangon region's 45 townships, 15 political parties and 26 independent delegates totaling 459 candidates took part in the contest.

In Nay Pyi Taw's eight townships, four parties and two independents with a total of 25 candidates contest.Parties running popular are the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), led by Prime Minister U Thein Sein, National Unity Party (NUP), led by U Tun Yi, and National Democratic Force (NDF), led by U Than Nyein.

USDP is transformed from the government-backed biggest social organization the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), and the NUP is reorganized from the previous government's disbanded ruling Myanmar Socialist Program Party and the NDF is a break-away party from the disbanded National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi.Others are Democratic Party (Myanmar), National Political Alliance League (NPAL), Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, National Democratic Party for Development, Democracy and Peace Party, and 88 Generation Student Youths (Union of Myanmar).

Burmese people started voting at 6 a.m. for a new government for the first time in 20 years, amid extensive reports of vote-rigging and coercion by the main junta-backed party, in collusion with electoral authorities.

polling-7

People wait to vote outside a polling station in South Okkalapa Township, Rangoon, on Sunday, November 7, 2010. Exit interviews show an early swing to the National Democratic Force party and independents, away from Rangoon Mayor and regime-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party candidate, Aung Thein Lin. Photo: Mizzima
Early voter turnout in the former capital of Rangoon and major cities has been high, but in rural and ethnic areas, voters have been noticeably slower to appear at polling stations.

In South Okkalapa Township, indications are that the National Democratic Force party and independents were gathering more support than Rangoon Mayor and regime-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) candidate Aung Thein Lin, judging by early exit interviews conducted by Mizzima correspondents.

The Burmese have not had the chance of electing their own government since 1990, when Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party the National League for Democracy (NLD) won with an overwhelming 80 per cent of seats. The junta however never relinquished power a military regime has been ruling the country since.

But this time around, the NLD is boycotting the elections and has been dissolved for failing to re-register by a May deadline as a political party.

The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has said these elections were going to be free and fair and would lead to the transition to a civilian and democratic government, but international observers, governments, human rights groups and advocates of the boycott inside Burma have denounced the polls as a “sham” and a “farce” designed to reinstate military rule.

State-media in Burma has warned against a boycott and has stated via its mouthpiece, the New Light of Myanmar, that if a boycott crippled elections today, the junta would have no choice but to continue to reign all-powerful, and that another election could “take a very long time”.

The junta-funded USDP is understandably confident of victory amid innumerable accounts of vote-buying, voter-harassment and intimidation.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the elections “expose the abuses of the military junta”, the BBC reported today.

The Australian government said it had “very grave reservations about the elections” and condemned the “patently unfair election laws that place severe restrictions on political parties”.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s government said it welcomed the more forthright comments from Asean members the Philippines and Indonesia regarding the elections. Both countries also called for the immediate release of all political prisoners including Suu Kyi.

Despite criticism of the military regime, Australian officials had said it would be increasing the aid it sends Burma from US$29.1 million in 2009-2010, to US$48.6 million this year.

Voting would not be taking place in many ethnic areas because of junta-imposed bans, the regime said, citing danger in “black” areas controlled by armed ethnic ceasefire and non-ceasefire militias.

The junta said that conditions in areas in Kachin, Karenni, Karen, Mon and Shan states were insufficient for the holding of a free and fair vote, an order that sidelined millions of ethnic minority people from voting.

The armed non-ceasefire group, the Karen National Union (KNU), made a statement today that the election was designed to perpetuate military rule and would bring neither change nor peace to Burma.

It said the polls were merely being held for a “cosmetic change of direct rule by the generals from a military council [SPDC] to military rule behind a civilian fa├žade to legally continue the oppressive military rule and human rights violations against the ethnic nationalities”.

Reports of legal and ethical flaws in polling conditions have been pouring in all morning. A government official from Mayangone Township told Mizzima early today that, “Currently, there are more than 100 voters in the polling station. The poll staff did not check the ID cards of voters so how do they know whether [they] are real eligible voters or not?”

Amid concerns about the potential for electoral fraud, he said: “They gave voters tickets that were numbered. Everyone who had the tickets could vote so it’s not systematic. They arranged everything carelessly.” Media Agencies

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