From ethnic minority groups in Burma to Western powers, many have condemned Burma’s first national election in 20 years as a sham.
The widespread criticism came as the ruling military junta’s proxy party was poised to win the elections boycotted by detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy and many ethnic minority groups.
The groups said the election was not credible and blamed what they call a biased constitution. There is also growing fears that the junta will use the polls to beef up control of the ethnic areas.
One ethnic leader who turned up at the polls on Nov. 7 was disappointed at the “very thin” voter turnout.
“I saw volunteers at a polling station just falling asleep because there was no one to attend to,” said Htaung Ko Htan, a Chin ethnic minority leader who visited between 20 and 25 polling booths in the the former capital of Rangoon.
“There are very few people voting,” he said.
Ethnic minority groups, who make up about 40 percent of Burma's population, have been demanding greater regional autonomy from the majority Burman-led central government since independence from Britain in 1948.'Rigged elections'
There have been widespread reports of torture, forced labor, executions, and destruction of villages by the junta troops in their areas.
"Rigged elections cannot bring peace to Burma, nor legitimacy to a regime that uses violent repression against its own people," said Carl Soderbergh, spokesman for Minority Rights Group International, a nongovernmental organization.
Election authorities had also rejected the candidacy of a dozen former leaders of a major ethnic group from Kachin state, which borders China, a key ally of the junta, which has pressured armed ethnic groups who have enjoyed decades of de facto autonomy to join the political process.
In an incident on election day, anti-junta Karen rebels were believed to have seized the Myawaddy police station and post office just inside Burma from Thailand, according to border sources.
The junta leaders were silent about the elections, but Burmese state TV said voters "freely and happily" cast ballots and that the vote was conducted "with a full sense of inclusiveness.”
The National Democratic Force (NDF), the main opposition party participating in the polls, slammed the junta and its main proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which was set to win the elections.
They "are so shameless in their utter craving for power that they brazenly rig votes with complete disregard for the people and the credibility of the election," said Khin Maung Swe, a top NDF official. "They are desperately robbing votes."
"Don't recognize elections"
The NDF charged that the USDP had obtained many “advance” votes, suggesting irregularities.
Soe Aung, deputy secretary of the Thailand-based Forum for Democracy in Burma, called on the international community not to recognize the election results.
“This is a sham election ... The parliament which will (be formed) after this election will be a rubber-stamp parliament to endorse what another military council will be doing against the will of its own people."
The United States and the European Union led the international criticism of the elections.
U.S. President Obama said the the polls were "anything but free and fair."
"For too long the people of Burma have been denied the right to determine their own destiny," he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed his remarks, saying that Burma “missed an opportunity” by holding the "severely flawed" elections.
Clinton said the Obama administration would still speak to the military leaders but maintain "rigorous sanctions" against them while they hold political prisoners, abuse human rights, and ignore dialogue with the opposition."Foregone conclusion"
Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said the election result was “a foregone conclusion” as he criticized the military junta, according to agency reports.
"For the people of Burma, it will mean the return to power of a brutal regime that has pillaged the nation’s resources and overseen widespread human rights abuses, including arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, rape, and torture," he added.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner condemned the exclusion of minorities and opposition parties from the vote.
"I call on the Burmese authorities to sincerely commit to the path of dialogue with the whole of the opposition, and with the minorities," he said.
The European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the elections did not meet international standards.
"Many aspects of these elections are not compatible with internationally accepted standards, notably in the bias against most opposition parties—such as the NLD—and their candidates,” she said, referring to Suu Kyi's party that won the last national election in 1990 but was barred from taking office.
An estimated 2,100 political prisoners, including student leaders, monks, pro-democracy leaders, and ethnic minority leaders are languishing in prisons across Burma.
On Nov. 5, two days before voting began, China expressed support for the elections.
"China respects the independent choice of the Myanmar people and hopes to see a smooth election in Myanmar as well as continued progress in democracy and in the development in the country," Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei said at a news briefing in Beijing, using the name given to the country by its military rulers.
"Safeguarding domestic stability in Myanmar and ensuring a smooth election is in the fundamental interests of the people of Myanmar," and in the interests of regional prosperity, he said.Reported by Tin Aung Khine for Radio Free Asia's Burmese service. Translated by Maung Nyo. Written by Rachel Vandenbrink.