Army-backed party sweeps Myanmar election


YANGON: Myanmar’s biggest military-backed party won the country’s first election in 20 years by a landslide on Tuesday after a carefully choreographed vote denounced by pro-democracy parties as rigged to preserve authoritarian rule.
Opposition parties conceded defeat but accused the military junta of fraud and said many state workers had been forced to support the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in advance balloting ahead of Sunday’s vote.
US President Barack Obama told a news conference in Indonesia Myanmar’s election was neither free nor fair and called on Burmese authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners.
But China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs lauded the election as “peaceful and successful”, illustrating strengthening ties between energy-hungry China and its resource-rich neighbour.
As the votes were counted, government soldiers cleared ethnic minority rebels from an eastern border town after two days of sporadic clashes that killed at least 10 people and sent about 18,000 civilians fleeing into neighbouring Thailand.
Many refugees had returned to Myanmar by afternoon as the military pushed back the ethnic minority Karen rebels who have resisted central authority for generations since what was then Burma won independence in 1948 from Britain.
UN refugee agency UNHCR says it is helping about 15,000 refugees who fled to Thailand from fighting in Myawaddy, and monitoring another 3,000 who fled from another area of Myanmar. The fighters say the election and the military’s continued dominance threaten any chance of achieving a degree of autonomy.
Stacked with recently retired generals and closely aligned with 77-year-old paramount leader Senior General Than Shwe, the USDP took as many as 80 percent of the available seats for parliament, a senior USDP official told Reuters.
But Khin Maung Swe, leader of the National Democratic Force, the largest opposition party, told Reuters: “We took the lead at the beginning but the USDP later came up with so-called advance votes and that changed the results completely, so we lost.”
The second-largest pro-democracy party, the Democratic Party (Myanmar), also conceded defeat. “I admit defeat but it was not fair play. It was full of malpractice and fraud and we will try to expose them and tell the people,” its leader, Thu Wai, told Reuters.
At least six parties have lodged complaints with the election commission, accusing the USDP of fraud — a charge that is unlikely to gain traction in a country where more than 2,100 political activists are behind bars.