The party backed by Burma's ruling military junta has, as expected, taken the lead in the country's first elections in two decades, the official Election Commission announced after poorly attended polls at the weekend.
As results trickled in, the opposition charged vote fraud
but claimed it had won in key areas in the former capital Rangoon and in
Mandalay city, where anti-junta feelings are believed to be running high. Minority ethnic parties also grabbed several seats.
Western powers condemned the Nov. 7 polls as a sham as independent monitors were barred from observing the process and no foreign media were allowed to cover the landmark event.
The junta's political proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which is widely tipped to win the elections due to rules in its favor, has amassed 43 of the 59 seats declared so far, according to the Union Election Commission hours after polling stations closed.
The remaining 16 seats were captured by ethnic minority parties, the commission said.
The USDP did not contest in many ethnic minority strongholds where it was said to have little chance of winning.
The largest opposition party, the National Democratic Force
(NDF), claimed it had won six seats in the Rangoon area and five in Mandalay
while the ethnic Rakhine National Development Party (RNDP) said it had won six
seats in the northern Rakhine State.
NDF, an offshoot of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), contested only 164 seats in total but complained that its winning chances could be marred by possible cheating by the military-backed USDP.
NDF leaders said USDP had amassed "advance" ballots which they linked to the headquarters of the junta.
Khin Maung Swe, an NDF founder, said that in one of the key contests, some 4,000 advance votes had been chalked up by USDP's Aung Thein Lin, a former major general and current Rangoon city mayor.
The back of the advance ballots had “Nay Pyi Daw” printed on them, referring to the junta's new capital, Naypyidaw, Khin said.
"We have complained to the election commission, and they are trying to sort this out," he said.
In another seat in the Rangoon area, the election commission suspended polling after protests by another military-linked party.
The National Unity Party (NUP), which is the successor to the late dictator Ne Win's party, accused the USDP of openly campaigning in a polling booth against election laws.
Many contests were direct fights between the USDP and NUP, which between them make up nearly 70 percent of the election candidates.
The USDP fielded 1,112 candidates for the 1,159 seats in the two-house national parliament and 14 regional parliaments while the NUP had 995 candidates.
More than 29 million people were eligible to vote, but turnout was very low in the estimated 40,000 polling stations across Burma that were opened for 10 hours, according to sources, eyewitnesses, and reports.
"This is a really very ridiculous election," said Thakhin Chan Tun, a key member of pro-democracy Veteran Politicians Group, pointing to the poor turnout.
Thakhin, a member of parliament in the 1950s as well as
former Burmese ambassador to China, said the voter turnout in his area was
"But I went and voted."
Security was tight during polling as riot police were deployed at key road junctions amid rumors of trouble. But the voting was mostly peaceful.
In the last elections in 1990, Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi swept her party to victory, but the result was never recognized by the ruling generals. She has been detained for most of the last 20 years and supported a boycott of Sunday's election.
The United States and the European Union led the chorus of condemnations of the polls.
U.S. President Barack Obama, on a visit to India, said the vote would be "anything but free and fair" and lamented that "for too long the people of Burma have been denied the right to determine their own destiny."
His chief diplomat, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said the U.S. 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.
"The generals who have ruled the country for the past 22 years missed an opportunity to begin [a] genuine transition toward democratic governance and national reconciliation," Clinton said.
The European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also dismissed the election and called for the release of political prisoners.
Elections "not compatible" with 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," said Ashton.
Britain said the election would "mean the return to power of a brutal regime."
Some however saw the polls as a small step towards democracy as opposition parties will have a voice in parliament.
"Even a sham election can provide a small opportunity to contribute to change in Burma," said an editorial in Irrawaddy, a website run by exiled Burmese journalists, ahead of the elections.
"Change will come to Burma not because of a sham election but because of the people’s inspiration," it said.
"Now is the time to shake up Burma’s military dictatorship and politics of stalemate."
The junta refused to allow international monitors or foreign media into the country for the election, and local journalists were only taken on "guided" tours. Western foreign diplomats refused to join these tours.
A Japanese journalist with the Tokyo-based video and photo agency APF News was detained in the southeastern border town of Myawaddy after crossing over illegally from Thailand, a Myanmar government official said.
Ethnic Karen rebels are believed to have seized the police station and post office of Myawaddy on the election day to protest the election, border sources said.
The junta has indicated that Suu Kyi may be freed after the poll. She is among about 2,200 political prisoners in the tightly ruled state.
Reported by Kyaw Kyaw Aung, Nyan Win Aung, Tin Aung Khine, Nay Rain Kyaw, Thein Aung and Kyaw Min Htun for RFA's Burmese Service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun and Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.