Military party sweeping Myanmar election

Myanmar`s military-backed party has so far captured 75% of the parliamentary seats contested in weekend elections.

Yangon: Myanmar`s military-backed party has so far captured 75 percent of the parliamentary seats contested in weekend elections, a senior party leader said Wednesday, following polling widely decried as manipulated and unfair.

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 President Barack Obama have said they were neither free nor fair.

The polling also has sparked violence and some fears of an outright civil war among Myanmar`s ethnic minorities who make up some 40 percent of the population. Some have been fighting the central government since Myanmar gained independence from Great Britain in 1948.

Clashes starting Sunday between ethnic rebels and government troops prompted an exodus of about 20,000 refugees across the border in to Thailand. Many of them headed home Tuesday after the fighting at the Thai-Myanmar 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.

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 that the party has won 878 seats contested in the two-chamber Parliament and 14 regional parliaments. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, 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 nations in slamming Myanmar`s first election in 20 years.

The official, speaking at the party`s low-keyed headquarters, said that to date 80 percent of the candidates fielded by the USDP had won their contests and 77 percent of the two-house Parliament were 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 favor of its proxy party and strong-arm tactics were allegedly used on opponent candidates.

The military, which has ruled Myanmar 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 Myanmar, also known as 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.

In the first official mention in Myanmar of the border-area fighting, Myanmar state television Tuesday night said the clashes were with the Karen National Union, an ethnic rebel group fighting against the government for decades.

The report said three people were killed and 20 injured in Myawaddy. Five others — including three soldiers and a policeman — were killed in Three Pagoda Pass. Five people inside Thailand were also wounded Monday by stray gunfire, it said.

Several human rights groups warned of possible civil war as ethnic groups are pressured by the government to accept a new constitution that offers them little autonomy. Several groups that field potent guerrilla armies refused to take part in the election.

"If the dictatorship goes ahead with plans to attack all armed groups refusing to surrender, today`s fighting will be the equivalent of a first small skirmish," the group Burma Campaign UK said Monday in a statement.

The UN and human rights groups have detailed killings, rape, torture, forced labor and burning of villages in Myanmar as the regime campaigns to deny the rebels support from the civilian population. Thailand already shelters a quarter-million ethnic minority refugees from brutal campaigns by the Myanmar army.

Bureau Report

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