x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Myanmar casts ballots for first time in two decades

Voters in Myanmar¿s first elections in 20 years cast their ballots amid criticism that the balloting was rigged in favour of the ruling military.

Myanmar voted in its first election in 20 years on Sunday under tight security
Myanmar voted in its first election in 20 years on Sunday under tight security

YANGON, Myanmar // Voters in Myanmar's first elections in 20 years cast their ballots yesterday amid criticism that the balloting was rigged in favour of the ruling military.

The junta did not disclose when the results would be announced, saying only that they could come "in time".

It was almost certain, however, that through pre-election engineering the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) would emerge victorious despite widespread popular opposition to 48 years of military rule.

The streets of Yangon, Myanmar's largest city, were unusually quiet and voter turnout appeared light at many polling stations. Some residents said they were staying home as rumours circulated that bombs would explode.

About 40,000 polling stations across the South-east Asian country opened at 6am and closed 10 hours later.

The USDP fielded 1,112 candidates for a total of 1,159 seats in the two-house national parliament and 14 regional parliaments. Its closest rival, the National Unity Party backed by supporters of Myanmar's previous military ruler, had 995 candidates.

The largest opposition party, the National Democratic Force, contested just 164 spots.

Election rules were written to benefit the USDP, and hundreds of potential opposition candidates - including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party won a landslide victory in the last elections in 1990 but was barred from taking office - are under house arrest or in prison. Several parties have complained that voters were strong-armed into voting for the pro-junta party, with some told that they would lose their jobs if they did not.

Cho Cho Kyaw Nyein, general secretary of the Democratic Party, said there had been widespread cheating by the USDP.

"There have been reports that one person has cast votes for his whole family," he said. The USDP also threatened farmers with arrest if they did not vote for it, he said.

Whatever the results, the constitution sets aside 25 per cent of parliamentary seats for military appointees.

Voters expressed both fear and defiance. "I cannot stay home and do nothing," said Yi Yi, a 45-year-old computer technician. "I have to go out and vote against the USDP. That's how I will defy them."

* Reuters