Church doubts Myanmar will have a fair election

Scene outside Mynmar embassy, Bangkok

Scene outside Mynmar embassy, Bangkok

Catholic church leaders and politicians around the world  have expressed doubts that the forthcoming general elections in Myanmar (Burma)  planned for 7 November,  will be remotely fair - despite the government’s efforts to promote it as a break from past.

“I don’t expect much change after the election, but at least the government is responding to the people’s call for democracy,” said a Yangon Catholic priest, who asked to remain anonymous. The priest added that while the overall poll preparation seems to be in order, the government-backed party obviously has the advantage over the new parties.

Another priest from Loikaw diocese also feels that the contesting parties are not getting equal privileges. “I doubt that the upcoming polls will be fair because only few people are interested and majority do not know the candidates because media channels either malfunction or have been blocked,” he said.

A retired school teacher who has lived through decades of fear, told that he doesn’t know who the candidates are and asked that he not be named to protect himself.

“Rural people are unaware of their voting rights and are afraid of trouble if they vote,” added a land broker, who also chose anonymity for  safety reasons.

Human rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana said he felt Myanmar’s political system is still far from open. “It is clear that the process has not been inclusive,” he added.

All citizens over 18 years are entitled to vote in the election, which will be the first national poll in two decades. However, critics describe the November polls as a sham designed to strengthen military rule. Myanmar has been under the military since 1962.
The United Nations Secretary-General reiterated his call to the Burmese authorities to honour their commitments to hold inclusive, free and fair elections in order to advance the prospects of peace, democracy and development for Burma (SG statement of 13 August 2010).  He did so again at the recent meeting of the Group of Friends of the Secretary-General on Burma held in the margins of UNGA 65 on 27 September.

Alistair Burt, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, represented the UK at a Ministerial meeting of the Group of Friends convened by the Secretary-General on 27 September.  He made clear that the elections would not be free and fair.  None of the Security Council demands had been met: 2,100 political prisoners remained incarcerated; there had been no inclusive political dialogue with the opposition and ethnic groups; and no cooperation with the UN Good Offices Mission (GoM).  "These demands would remain valid following the elections.  We would judge the new government through its actions and we continued to stand ready to respond to real changes," he said.

Source: UCAN/FCO

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