Burma's regime prepares for victory despite poll boycott call

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The Independent Online

The leader of Burma's democratic movement, Aung San Suu Kyi, is due to be released from house arrest here on 13 November, but the governing junta has warned that she could be put on trial again if she continues to remind the public that they have the right to abstain from voting.

In a long article published on Sunday in the newspaper The New Light of Myanmar, which is the regime's mouthpiece, the writer, Kyaw Myo Aung, said: "A voter can choose not to vote, but a person who is found guilty of inciting the people to boycott the election is liable for not more than one's year's prison term or a fine of up to 100,000 kyats [£9,700], or both."

Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy (NLD) party won a landslide victory in Burma's last election 20 years ago, has spent more than 15 years confined to her house in Rangoon since 1989. Her party's triumph in the 1990 legislative elections – in which the regime's proxy party, the National Unity Party, won just 10 seats – was never honoured by the regime.

Earlier this year her party was offered the possibility of registering for the new elections, which will be held next Sunday, but only on condition that it expelled Ms Suu Kyi and some 200 other party members who are serving jail terms. The party refused, and was officially dissolved.

Yesterday's newspaper article accused Ms Suu Kyi's party of trying to "disrupt" the elections with "subversive acts" and of being aided in the attempt by the BBC and other foreign broadcasters. "Broadcasting stations like the BBC... [are] repeatedly airing broadcasts designed to instigate the people to refrain from voting in the upcoming elections," it claimed.

Endorsed by a stern editorial, which described voting as "a basic right" but also as "the national duty of citizens," the article left the unmistakable impression that, although 37 parties are contesting the election, it is really a contest between the regime's proxy parties and the genuinely democratic enemy it has been trying to eliminate by all possible means for 20 years now.

For collectors of psephological oddities, this Burmese election is one for the scrapbook.

With six days to go, it is hard to find indications that anything out of the ordinary is about to happen. In Rangoon, nobody is out campaigning. There are no election meetings, as assemblies of more than 50 people are banned. Canvassing door-to-door would appear to be out of the question.

The scowling photos of four middle-aged gentlemen stuck to a board outside a Chinese temple, all standing for the Union Solidarity and Development Party, the regime's new proxy party, were the only posters of candidates visible in the city centre.

The only other sign of election activity was a truck on the road to Sule Pagoda in the city centre with the farmer's hat symbol, the kamauk, emblazoned on its side. This was the NLD's icon in the 1990 election, but this time around has been adopted by the National Democratic Force – a breakaway party formed by NLD members opposed to the party's decision to boycott the election. The use of the symbol, has angered NDL activists, who fear it will confuse supporters.

After the disastrous humiliation of 1990, the regime is trying to do everything in its power to assure a clean sweep this time, and it is hard to see how it can fail. The £300 fee for candidates to register – a huge sum here – means that in many constituencies only candidates for the proxy parties are running. In those constituencies, the junta's favoured candidates are therefore assured of winning (as long as at least one person votes for them). In total, the two regime-sponsored parties have three times as many candidates as those of all the other parties put together.

The most remarkable aspect of the 1990 election was that there was apparently very little attempt to rig the result – hence the regime's black eye. But the outcome of a referendum on the new constitution, held in 2008, with more than 90 per cent supposedly voting "yes" (including the millions who had barely survived the disastrous cyclone Nargis a couple of weeks earlier), suggests that the regime has now mastered the art of obtaining the result it wants.

Six genuine opposition parties – including the Democratic Party led by the daughter of Burma's first prime minister, U Nu, and two other senior women from the political class – are banding together in an alliance to fight for seats in the former capital, Rangoon. It is the only part of the country where they are thought to have a chance of landing a significant blow on the regime's parties.

But even here it may be "the Lady's" call to voters to stay at home on election day that hurts the generals the most.