In Myan­mar, a fes­ti­val of democ­racy tinged with doubt

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - By An­drew RC Mar­shall

Apolls closed on Myan­mar’s his­toric elec­tion day, diplo­mats and other ob­servers said the vote was largely free and fair, with no re­ports so far of vi­o­lence or ma­jor fraud, just a solid turnout from a lively and in­formed elec­torate. “From the dozens of peo­ple we have spo­ken to since 6 am to­day, ev­ery­body feels they have been able to vote for who­ever they wanted to in se­cu­rity and safety,” said Du­rudee Sirichanya, an in­ter­na­tional ob­server with the ASEAN Sec­re­tar­iat.

Fac­tory man­ager Shein Win and his wife, Khin Myat Maw, ar­rived hold­ing hands to cast their votes in Yan­gon in Myan­mar’s first cred­i­ble gen­eral elec­tion in 25 years. Both now 46, they took part in a 1988 democ­racy protest that brought Aung San Suu Kyi to promi­nence. “We’ve been wait­ing for this day for a long time,” said Khin Myat Maw as they stood in line. There were cheers from crowds of well-wish­ers, who held up inkstained fin­gers to show they had voted, as Suu Kyi made a whis­tle-stop tour of polling booths in her con­stituency near Myan­mar’s com­mer­cial cap­i­tal.

Roughly 30 mil­lion peo­ple were el­i­gi­ble to vote on Sun­day, many ex­press­ing joy at the mile­stone their coun­try had reached af­ter nearly half a cen­tury of dic­ta­tor­ship, and a sense of duty to be part of it. One man who works as an ac­coun­tant in Sin­ga­pore said he had flown home just to vote and would head back the next day. In a down­town neigh­bor­hood of Myan­mar’s north­ern city of Man­dalay, Myint Myint, 95, was perched on a plas­tic chair car­ried by three men along a dirt path and past a snaking line of vot­ers to the lo­cal polling sta­tion. “A vote is a vote,” her grand­daugh­ter, Phyo Kyaw ex­plained. “Come on, this is our re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

Fear and anger

But there was anx­i­ety, too, as many vot­ers re­called the elec­tion of 1990, when a land­slide vic­tory for Suu Kyi’s Na­tional League for Democ­racy (NLD) party was brushed aside by mil­i­tary rulers. Khin May Oo, a 73year-old doc­tor who voted in Yan­gon, said the elec­tion may have brought Myan­mar to a turn­ing point, but added ner­vously of the gen­er­als who re­tain sig­nif­i­cant power: “I’m not sure whether they will ac­cept the elec­tion re­sults.” The mil­i­tary’s com­man­der-in-chief told re­porters on Sun­day the out­come of the vote would be re­spected, even if - as is widely ex­pected - Suu Kyi’s NLD emerges as the win­ner.

In­deed, at a mil­i­tary base in the cap­i­tal, Naypyitaw, Cap­tain Wai Yan Aung said when his duty shift ended he would change from his uni­form into tra­di­tional dress and cast his vote. “It’s a big and ex­cit­ing day for our coun­try,” he said. Damp­en­ing the cel­e­bra­tion was the can­cel­la­tion of vot­ing in ar­eas of the coun­try af­fected by eth­nic vi­o­lence, which ac­tivists es­ti­mate has cut some 4 mil­lion peo­ple out of the elec­toral process. In Man­dalay, about 100 peo­ple were stopped from vot­ing af­ter elec­tion of­fi­cials dis­cov­ered they were out­siders who had been added to the voter list by a third party and then bussed in to vote. “It was an at­tempt at fraud, that’s why we didn’t let them vote,” said Hla Soe of the Union Elec­tion Com­mis­sion.

There was also in­dig­na­tion about voter lists rid­dled with er­rors. Linn Htet Aung, 25, who works for an en­vi­ron­ment NGO in Yan­gon, said he was ex­cited about the po­ten­tial for change in the coun­try but dis­ap­pointed be­cause his name was omit­ted from the voter list in a slum area on the out­skirts of the city. “I am an­gry,” he said. “All my friends are vot­ing to­day but I can’t. I want to choose the gov­ern­ment I like but I can’t.” Aung Than Htun, an NLD of­fi­cial mon­i­tor­ing a polling sta­tion in the slum, said he had dis­cov­ered dead peo­ple on the vot­ing list. But other than that “it seems fine”, he said. Be­hind him, small white vot­ing slips sat in piles on a ta­ble, with rocks and peb­bles serv­ing as pa­per­weights. A sud­den gust of wind blew a hand­ful off the ta­ble and elec­tion of­fi­cials had to scurry to col­lect them. —Reuters

ROME: Guards stand at the en­trance of Rome’s crim­i­nal court on the open­ing day of the Mafia Cap­i­tale trial, a case re­lated to the al­leged in­fil­tra­tion of City Hall by a mafia net­work. —AFP

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