Burma poll marked by threats and low turnout

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy opts out of taking part in election

Burma's first election in 20 years was marked by low-turn out and reluctant voters yesterday as many people appeared to have decided there was little point participating in a poll considered skewed from the start.

In cities such as Rangoon, the former capital, turn-out may have been as little as 30 per cent, some sources said, despite threats from the military authorities that people could be jailed if they failed to vote. Armed police and troops were patrolling the streets.

As of last night, there was no word on the official turn-out or the result of the poll, simply that it would come "in time". In reality there was little to wait for; most observers have believed all along the polls would deliver a victory for two pro-establishment parties that have the backing of the military.

"So many people did not go to the polling booths. The number of voters was very low," Nyan Win, a lawyer for detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, told The Independent. "People are very angry with the junta. They cannot accept the junta."

The British ambassador to Burma, Andrew Heyn said: "Given that these are the first elections in 20 years, it feels flat, very low key, and little different from a normal Sunday in Rangoon. That's obviously a reflection of all the restrictions of the campaign and a feeling that the result is pre-determined."

Ahead of polls the authorities, led by General Than Shwe, insisted were a stepping stone to full democracy, a quarter of parliamentary seats were reserved for the military and tight restrictions were imposed on other parties. Many opposition groups, among them Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), decided not to participate.

As a result, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), an organisation stuffed with ex-military candidates and two dozen incumbent ministers, and the National Unity Party, the latter backed by supporters of Burma's previous military dictator, were the only parties with the resources to put up candidates in nearly all of the 1,159 seats. This left many of the country's 29 million eligible voters with the choice between military rulers past and present. In the border areas, where parties representing ethnic minorities were expected to do well, the junta cancelled voting, disenfranchising an estimated 1.5 million voters.

Both Barack Obama and British Foreign Secretary William Hague, dismissed the poll as neither free nor fair.

The last election in Burma was held in 1990. The NLD won by a landslide, only to see the result annulled by the authorities. The aftermath saw a wave of arrests of political opponents. Ms Suu Kyi has spent around 15 of the last 21 years either in jail or detained at her lakeside home in Rangoon. Her latest term of arrest is due to end on 13 November but it is unclear whether she will be released.

"This was a very sleepy election. In Rangoon we believe turn-out was just 30 per cent," said Aung Zaw, editor of The Irrawaddy news magazine, an exiled media organisation that closely monitors events inside Burma. "I think there were two factors for this; Ms Suu Kyi reminded voters that they did not have to vote and the concern about vote rigging and other irregularities."

Early results tallied by The Irrawaddy showed the junta's USDP headed towards a predictable victory, having won six seats, according to the newspaper's sources, versus three for the opposition National Democratic Front.

Some optimists believe the election may create a little motion in an environment that has stagnated since the September 2007 Saffron Uprising. Even if just one or two opposition parliamentarians are elected, they say, there might be a modicum of debate and political oversight, where none currently exists.

"It seems likely that the very small public political space will be widened and this is probably the best outcome we can hope for from the election," Burma expert Monique Skidmore of the Australian National University, told the Associated Press.

But most Western observers believe the polls will do little more than cement the role of the military establishment.

Some fear the poll might be seized on by countries such as India and China who are involved in multi-million dollar energy deals with Burma, as evidence they can cite that the junta is shifting away from authoritarian rule. They insist it is not.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Multi Trade Operative

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An established, family owned de...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exciting position has risen for a Customer ...

Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

Recruitment Genius: Fundraising Manager / Income Generation Coach

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A smart software company locate...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project