YANGON:In an election condemned as a sham by the West, the Myanmar military’s political proxy claimed an overwhelming victory Tuesday, as fresh fighting erupted between ethnic rebels and government forces.
Pro-democracy parties urged the authorities to act against “cheating” during Sunday’s poll, in which the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) had already enjoyed major financial and campaigning advantages.
“We have won about 80 per cent of the seats. We are glad,” said a senior USDP member who did not want to be named.
The vote appeared to have gone largely according to the junta’s plans but deadly clashes between government troops and ethnic minority soldiers on Monday triggered an exodus of about 20,000 people to neighbouring Thailand.
Local residents said Tuesday that Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) rebels had retreated into surrounding forests pursued by government forces, and distant sounds of fighting were heard.
At least three civilians were killed when heavy weapons fire hit the southeastern town of Myawaddy in Karen State, an official in Myanmar said Monday.
There was no official announcement from the junta or election officials on the vote results, but the USDP had been widely expected to sweep the poll because in many areas no pro-democracy candidates were even standing.
One quarter of the seats in parliament are already reserved for military, which together with its proxy looks set to have a comfortable majority for passing laws and electing the president.
“The message they want to give, especially to their neighbours, is: don’t mess with us. No matter what you do we are going to rule,” said Thailand-based Myanmar analyst Aung Naing Oo.
“The military wants to have control over everything.” A new constitution requires parliament to convene at least once a year.
“Opposition groups have charged that this is an omen that the parliament will be convened only once a year,” said Aung Naing Oo.
The USDP — formed by Prime Minister Thein Sein and other former military top brass who shed their uniforms for the vote — said election turnout was more than 70 per cent, despite muted activity seen at many polling stations.
Opposition parties have complained about widespread reports of irregularities, particularly with advance ballots.
“Officials need to take action against vote cheating,” Than Nyein, chairman of the National Democratic Force (NDF), told AFP.
He said the party, created by former members of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, so far appeared to have won only about 10 per cent of the more than 160 seats it contested.
“Our country has lacked dignity in the world so we wanted to restore our pride with a fair election. I’m very sorry because these acts could further harm the dignity of our country,” he said.
Thu Wai, chairman of the Democratic Party, said that when people were allowed to vote freely they had supported his party. “But they have won with advance votes. We cannot do anything,” he said.
Win Min, an exiled Myanmar academic, said the USDP was likely to sweep more than 82 per cent of the seats to beat the crushing victory scored by the opposition in 1990 — an outcome never recognised by the ruling generals.
US President Barack Obama led international criticism of the vote, saying it was “unacceptable” the regime had stolen the election, while UN chief Ban Ki-moon said it was “insufficiently inclusive, participatory and transparent”.
Myanmar’s southeast Asian neighbours, however, welcomed the poll as a “significant step forward”.
“ASEAN encourages Myanmar to continue to accelerate the process of national reconciliation and democratisation, for stability and development in the country,” chair Vietnam said in a statement.
China’s one-party government also applauded the vote as a “critical step” in the transition to an elected government.
After the election, attention was turning to whether the regime will release Suu Kyi on Saturday, when her current term of house arrest is due to end.
The democracy icon has been detained for most of the past 20 years and her party boycotted the poll, saying the rules were unfair