Burmese polls will be neither free nor fair, warns Suu Kyi

Democracy leader accuses military's proxy party of violence and intimidation

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The Independent Online

The Burmese democracy activist, Aung San Suu Kyi, has warned that tomorrow's by-elections will not be free and fair, with violence and intimidation overshadowing polls which she hopes will bring her to office for the first time.

The elections, for 45 seats in the military-dominated parliament, has been touted as a test to determine whether Western powers should lift sanctions on Burma. Such a move has been widely predicted given reforms under President Thein Sein.

"I don't think we can consider it a genuine free and fair election, if we consider what has been happening here over the last few months," Ms Suu Kyi told press and foreign election observers outside her lakeside Rangoon residence yesterday.

Alleging intimidation of candidates of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, she said "what has been happening is really beyond what is acceptable".

She accused her main opposition – the military proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) – of "illegal" campaign tactics, including deliberate acts of sabotage, by denying space for rallies and cutting off the electricity supply to a campaign office in the capital Naypyidaw. More worryingly, Ms Suu Kyi said, were "many, many" acts of violent intimidation of candidates. She said that she was "saddened by the fact that the government had not been firmer" against the actions of the USDP.

Foreign election observers have only been allowed into the country a few days before and after polling, and have voiced concern about events in the run-up to the election.

One of the foreign observers told The Independent that he had serious concerns over what is known as advanced votes – postal votes for government workers. Activists allege that irregularities with such votes helped the military rig the 2010 general elections, which took place when Ms Suu Kyi was under house arrest. She has spent most of the last two decades under some form of detention.

The observer did, however, note that some of the irregularities were more a matter of "incompetence" than deliberate disruptions. Allegations have been made that the electoral roll is full of inaccuracies, containing names of the deceased, people under voting age and the same name appearing multiple times.

A diplomat from a European Union member state, who wished to remain anonymous, said the EU would wait for the outcome of tomorrow's poll before casting judgement or making any decision on sanctions. "We are aware of irregularities, but it's too early to say as yet, we will judge them as a whole," the diplomat said.

If Ms Suu Kyi's party fails to perform as expected, gaining the majority of available seats, the rollback of sanctions could be in doubt. This comes as leading European businesses such as Britain's JCB have stated their intention to enter what the IMF has described as a "new economic frontier".

Ms Suu Kyi noted that in the campaign the NLD aimed to "energise" the population "after decades of quiescence" and "raise the political awareness of our people".

The deluge of red NLD flags on the streets of Burma's former capital, Rangoon, are a testimony to this project. Party stickers, flags and pamphlets are now ubiquitous – displays that up until recently could have landed someone with years in jail. As a result Ms Suu Kyi said that the "raising of our people's political awareness is our greatest triumph".