Burma poll ‘neither free nor fair’ says Aung San Suu Kyi

AUNG San Suu Kyi, leader of Burma’s opposition, has said landmark elections being held tomorrow will be neither free nor fair.

Irregularities, she said, were widespread, but she vowed to keep in the running for the sake of Burma’s long-repressed people. The democracy activist, speaking in Burma’s colonial capital, said members of her party had been intimidated in the run-up to tomorrow’s parliamentary by-elections, claiming some had been pelted with stones.

The 66-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate said government officials were involved in some of the irregularities and that they go “beyond what is acceptable for democratic elections”. But she said: “We’re determined to go forward because we think this is what our people want.”

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The vote to fill dozens of vacant seats in parliament comes after months of surprise reforms carried out by Burma’s nominally civilian government, still dominated by former military men. These have included the release of political prisoners, truces with rebels and lifting of media censorship. The poll is a crucial test of the regime’s commitment to change, and many western countries have held out the possibility of lifting some sanctions if all goes smoothly.

In a televised speech last Sunday, president Thein Sein admitted to “unnecessary errors” and asked everyone to respect “the decision of the people.”

Yesterday, adviser Nay Zin Latt said “there could be some flaws and some bumps in the process, but our leaders have said their policy is to hold a free, fair and impartial election”.

What’s important, he added, is that “the country is on its reform road and is in the process of building a democratic society”.

The elections could mark a turning point, by bringing Ms Suu Kyi into parliament for the first time after a quarter century of struggle, most of which time was spent under house arrest by the ruling junta. Her candidacy has raised hopes for a more representative government after almost 50 years of military rule. It could also set the stage for her to run for president during the next general election in 2015.

But with parliament dominated by the ruling party, and a quarter of seats allotted to the army, Ms Suu Kyi will be hard-pressed to do much if elected.

She said there were “many, many cases of intimidation” and breaches of electoral law. Her National League for Democracy party said they included election commission officials campaigning for the ruling party, and leaving eligible voters off voting lists while including the names of the dead. Her party also alleges opponents engaged in vote-buying, and barred her from holding stadium rallies. She said there were attempts to injure opposition candidates with stones and one security guard was hospitalised.

“I do not think that we can say this election is going to be free and fair if we just look at the process that has been going on,” she said. “Some of the irregularities were committed by those in official positions.”

But, she hoped “the courage and resolution of people will overcome the intimidation.”