Military-backed party sweeping Burma vote

A senior member of Burma's military-backed party says it has so far captured 75 per cent of parliamentary seats in the country's elections, which have widely been decried as manipulated and unfair.

Burma's military-backed party has so far captured 75 per cent of the parliamentary seats contested in weekend elections, a senior party leader said Wednesday after polling widely decried as manipulated and unfair.

Two Burmese election officials prepare to count votes at a polling station in Myitkyina in northern Burma on Sunday during a poll-monitoring tour for the country's journalists and foreign diplomats. ((Associated Press))
  The results point to an overwhelming victory. But there is little doubt about the outcome because the junta proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party fielded candidates in nearly every district, whereas the largest opposition party was able to contest only 164 of the 1,159 parliamentary seats in Sunday's elections.

The government says the elections, the country's first in two decades, are a major step toward democracy, but critics including U.S. President Barack Obama have said they were neither free nor fair.

The polling also has sparked violence and some fears of a civil war among Burma's ethnic minorities, who make up some 40 per cent of the population. Some have been fighting the central government since Burma, which is also known as Myanmar, gained independence from Britain in 1948.

Clashes starting Sunday between ethnic rebels and government troops prompted an exodus of about 20,000 refugees across the border into Thailand.

Many of them headed home Tuesday after the fighting at the Thai-Burma border town of Myawaddy subsided. But about 1,000 still remained on Thai soil opposite the Three Pagoda Pass, another site of clashes in recent days.

New clashes feared

The governor of Thailand's Kanchanaburi province, Nataphon Wichienprerd, said the refugees feared renewed clashes in the Three Pagoda Pass area.

No official results of the elections have yet been announced.

But a leader in the military-backed USDP said the party has won 878 seats contested in the two-chamber parliament and 14 regional parliaments. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said ballot tallies were coming in slowly.

Political opponents say a sweeping victory for the junta's proxies will be engineered through cheating, and are joined by Western countries in slamming Burma's first election in 20 years.

The official, speaking at the party's low-keyed headquarters, said that to date 80 per cent of the candidates fielded by the USDP had won their contests and 77 per cent of the two-house parliament was in its hands.

Even the country's second-biggest party, the National Unity Party — an outgrowth of the political machine of the late strongman Gen. Ne Win now associated with big business interests — has joined the chorus of critics, even though it is generally seen as closer to the junta than to the country's pro-democracy movement.

"The election process is absolutely unfair," said 82-year-old retired Brigadier Aye San, a senior NUP official who claimed there had been many cases of election fraud and malpractice.

The NUP had run 995 candidates, giving it hope it could pick up supporters in constituencies where it was the only alternative to the junta-backed party.

The largest anti-government party, the National Democratic Force, contested just 164 spots.

Although the ruling junta is widely detested, election rules were stacked in favour of its proxy party and strong-arm tactics were allegedly used on opponent candidates.

The military, which has ruled Burma since 1962, continues to hold some 2,200 political prisoners, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Sunday's election was the first in Burma since a 1990 vote won by Suu Kyi's party, which was barred from taking power and boycotted the new polls.

Suu Kyi's term of house arrest is supposed to expire Saturday, though the junta has kept silent over whether it will grant her freedom.