Army-backed party claims victory in Myanmar vote

Army-backed party claims victory in Myanmar vote

Yangon: The Myanmar military’s political proxy claimed victory Tuesday in the country’s widely criticised first election in 20 years, saying it had won about 80 % of the seats.

The poll has been denounced by Western governments as anything but free and fair and pro-democracy parties who participated have complained of intimidation and “cheating" at polling booths.

“We have won about 80% of the seats. We are glad," said a senior member of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), who did not want to be named.

The vote appeared to have gone largely according to the junta’s plans but fighting erupted between government troops and ethnic rebels on Monday, triggering an exodus of about 20,000 people to neighbouring Thailand.

At least three civilians were killed when heavy weapons fire hit the town of Myawaddy in Karen State, an official in Myanmar said. There was no information on any troop casualties on either side.

There was no official announcement from the junta or election officials on the vote results, but the USDP had been widely expected to sweep the poll given the severe financial, campaigning and other hurdles facing opposition parties.

The USDP was formed by Prime Minister Thein Sein and other former top military officials who shed their uniforms to contest Sunday’s election.

The USDP member said turnout was more than 70%, despite muted activity seen at many polling stations on election day.

There were also widespread accusations of irregularities on election day.

“It’s very different from our expectation because of foul play," said Than Nyein, chairman of the National Democratic Force, created by former members of Suu Kyi’s party, which boycotted the vote and was disbanded.

“We have our evidence. Some candidates complained... because there was vote cheating," he told AFP on Monday.

Thu Wai, chairman of the Democratic Party, also said the results would be worse than expected, “not only because of the advance votes, but also because we didn’t have representatives at every polling station".

With 25% of the seats in parliament reserved for military appointees whatever the outcome, the two main pro-junta parties needed to win just another 26% from the elected seats to secure a majority.

In many constituencies the poll was a two-way battle between the USDP and the National Unity Party (NUP), which is the successor to late dictator Ne Win’s party and also closely aligned with the military.

US President Barack Obama led international criticism of the vote.

“It is unacceptable to steal an election, as the regime in Burma (Myanmar) has done again for all the world to see," he said in a speech to the Indian parliament on Monday.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon called the vote “insufficiently inclusive, participatory and transparent", his spokesman said.

Myanmar state media, however, said people “freely cast votes" and it announced the “winners" in 57 constituencies, 55 of which were contested by just one candidate, more than two-thirds of those from the USDP.

More than 29 million people were eligible to vote but ahead of the election many in the impoverished nation had appeared apathetic and disillusioned with the process.

After the election, attention was turning to whether the regime will release Suu Kyi on Saturday, when her current term of house arrest is due to end.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner swept her party to victory in 1990 but was never allowed to take power by the ruling generals. She has been detained for most of the past 20 years.