02 April, 2012

Myanmar opposition alleges ballot paper irregularities

YANGON: Myanmar's opposition complained Sunday that ballot sheets had been tampered with in landmark elections in which its leader Aung San Suu Kyi is standing for parliament for the first time.


National League for Democracy spokesman Nyan Win said there had been widespread complaints that wax had been put over the check box for Suu Kyi's party, which could be rubbed off later to cancel the vote.

"This is happening around the country. The election commission is responsible for what is occurring," he told AFP.

"I have sent a complaint letter to the union election commission. If it continues like this it can harm the prestige of the election."

The NLD is contesting 44 of the 45 seats at stake in Sunday's vote -- not enough to threaten the ruling party's majority, but a seat in parliament would give the opposition leader a chance to shape legislation for the first time.

A 2010 general election, won by the military's political proxies, was marred by widespread complaints of cheating and the exclusion of Suu Kyi, who was released from seven straight years of house arrest shortly afterwards.

In the run-up to this Sunday's by-elections, the NLD complained about campaign irregularities, including alleged intimidation of candidates.

Suu Kyi said on Friday that the vote could not be considered "a genuinely free and fair election" but stopped short of announcing a boycott.

Main parties running in Myanmar elections

Seventeen parties, including six new to the political scene, are contesting by-elections in Myanmar on Sunday, with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi standing for parliament for the first time.

The parties are fielding a total of 160 candidates alongside eight independents running for 45 seats vacated by lawmakers appointed to government positions, according to the election commission.

Here are some of the main parties standing in the vote:

NATIONAL LEAGUE FOR DEMOCRACY: Suu Kyi's party was founded in 1988 after a popular uprising against the military junta that left thousands dead.

Two years later the party won elections in a landslide but the results were never recognised by the regime. Suu Kyi was under house arrest at the time and spent much of the following two decades in detention.

The NLD boycotted a November 2010 election that swept the army's allies to power, saying the rules were unfair, and was stripped of its status as a legal political party. Suu Kyi was released days after the vote.

After a thaw in relations with the regime, the party was permitted to re-register to take part in Sunday's by-elections, and it is contesting 44 of the seats.

Observers believe the regime wants Suu Kyi to win a seat in the polls to give its reformist programme legitimacy and spur the West into easing sanctions.

UNION SOLIDARITY AND DEVELOPMENT PARTY: The military-backed USDP -- which won about 80 per cent of the seats available in 2010 -- is contesting all 45 seats on offer but will keep its majority whatever the outcome.

It was formed by then prime minister Thein Sein and other ministers who retired from their military posts ahead of the last polls. Thein Sein took office as president of the new nominally civilian government in March 2011.

The party inherited considerable financial resources and millions of members from the Union Solidarity and Development Association, a powerful pro-junta organisation that was merged into the USDP.

NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC FORCE: Formed by a group of breakaway NLD members, the NDF's decision to stand in the 2010 elections put it at odds with Suu Kyi, who was opposed to participating because she felt the rules were unfair.

It won a handful of seats in parliament and is fielding 11 by-election candidates.

SHAN NATIONALITIES DEMOCRATIC PARTY: The party is counting on the support of the Shan, the second-largest ethnic group in Myanmar, in the three constituencies it is contesting.

Popularly known as the White Tiger Party, it is headed by prominent ethnic Shan leader Sai Aik Paung.

It came second behind the NLD in the annulled 1990 election, and is the second-largest party in the lower house of parliament thanks to a strong showing in 2010.

- AFP/ck
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