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Western democracies dismiss Myanmar poll as corrupt and unfair

Western democracies broadly dismissed Sunday's election in Myanmar, saying it was neither free nor fair, and violence erupted on the Thai border as ballots were counted.

Monk walking past Suu Kyi's headquarters

Observers noted misdeeds such as coercion and vote-buying in the election

Numerous Western countries dismissed Myanmar's first multiparty election in 20 years, saying it was neither free nor fair. They also repeated calls to free imprisoned opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

However, Myanmar's ally China refused to join the chorus of international disapproval. The state-owned newspaper Global Times reported the government considered the controversial polls "a step forward." An official statement is still awaited.

Statement by US, Australia

The US, EU, UK, Australia and Japan all condemned vote as being neither free nor fair. In a joint statement, the US and Australia urged the regime's leaders to ensure that "post-election institutions be transparent, accountable and responsive to their citizens' aspirations."

Old woman casts ballot in Burma

Observers say the election results were rigged

US President Barack Obama, speaking on a visit to India on Monday, went so far as to accuse the ruling Myanmar military junta of stealing the election.

"It is unacceptable to steal an election, as the regime in Burma has done again for all the world to see," he said in a speech at the Indian parliament, in which he referred to Myanmar by its former name.

Obama critiques those who fail to speak out

He cited Myanmar as an example of a country where a "bankrupt regime" imprisoned opponents and gunned down protesters. And he shot a barb at his host country when he accused Mumbai of failling to speak out sufficiently on the rights of the repressed.

"Faced with such gross violations of human rights, it is the responsibility of the international community, especially leaders like the United States and India, to condemn it." Obama said.

"If I can be frank, in international fora, India has often shied away from these issues," he added.

Ethnic violence erupts at border

In the US, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said her country would uphold "rigorous sanctions" against Myanmar's regime as long as it abuses human rights and holds political prisoners.

Independent Burmese observers reported widespread allegations of voter intimidation and bribery in the elections, and most international observers had already written off the vote as a sham designed to further entrench miltiary rule.

Close-up of Aung San Suu Kyi

Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was sidelined in the election

Representatives of the military junta's political arm, the Union Solidarity and Development party (USDP) are alleged to have conducted widespread voter coercion, intimidation and vote-buying. And concerns have been raised about votes being counted away from public or opposition party scrutiny.

Meanwhile, as the ballots were counted on Monday, violence erupted between government soldiers and ethnic minority Karen rebels in the border town of Myawaddy. Some 10,000 refugees fled across the border into Thailand to escape the post-election fighting.

Scales tipped for the military

While Myanmar officially ended half a century of direct army rule on Sunday, a variety of restrictions accompanying the election made a pro-democracy upset virtually impossible. For instance, 25 percent of parliamentary seats are reserved for the military. And the government-crafted constitution and skewed election rules heavily favored the military government's candidates.

That means that for now, Myanmar's military will uphold its power through affiliated parties. Candidates backed by the regime enjoyed substantial financial support and were also accused of intimidating opposing parties.

"For the people of Burma, it will mean the return to power of a brutal regime that has pillaged the nation's resources and overseen widespread human rights abuses, including arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, rape and torture," Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said in response to Sunday's election.

China is supportive of regime

Meanwhile, China's Global Times reported the Chinese government supported "Myanmar's plan to transform its political system, but knows it will not happen overnight."

China has long helped economically-dysfunctional Myanmar to keep afloat through trade ties, arms sales, and by shielding it from UN sanctions over rights abuses as a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council. In the first five months of this year, China has invested about $8 billion (11 billion euros) in Myanmar, which it sees as a strategic ally and important trading partner, especially for its energy-hungry western provinces.

It will likely be many days before official results are released, since the process of vote counting in Myanmar is painstaking and slow.

Author: David Schnicke (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Jennifer Abramsohn

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