Army to vote in separate ballot boxes

Burmese troops and their families in barracks will cast their vote for the looming elections in separate ballot boxes from ordinary civilians, the commander of a Rangoon-based army battalion has told DVB.

A directive was issued on 6 September by the War Office in the capital, Naypyidaw, and signed by Lt. Gen. Thura Myint Aung, who it said was an official at Burma’s defence ministry, although he has been tipped to head the army following the elections. It was sent to army units across the country two months prior to the 7 November polls.

Included in the directive was an order for troops to vote for the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), led by Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein, and to “avoid a repeat of the 1990 elections” which the ruling junta lost, despite having held onto power. If soldiers are found to have voted for parties other than the USDP, their battalion commanders will be penalised.

In preparation for the vote senior army officials are to appoint a supervisor and assistant supervisor from soldiers’ families to man each of the ballot boxes. According to the directive, every battalion will have its own box, and the names of the appointed supervisors must be submitted to Naypyidaw by 15 September.

The Rangoon commander added that each unit will collaborate with local junta-appointed Election Commission (EC) officials over the building of the ballot boxes. Troops who will be serving on the frontline on the day of voting can either cast votes in advance or use a form of long-distance voting, although it is not clear how this will work.

The polls have already been widely derided by the international community as a sham aimed at entrenching military power under the guise of a civilian government. Burma has been under a military dictatorship since 1962, and conditions surrounding the elections appear to have been tailored to ensure this continues.

Reports such as this of election fraud surface regularly and compound concerns about the polls being free and fair: the constitution awards a quarter of parliamentary seats to military officers prior to voting, and influential members of the junta have taken key positions in the USDP, which is widely tipped to win.

Moreover, the USDP has announced it will field around 990 candidates, while the opposition National Democratic Force (NDF) will field around 160. The 500,000 kyat (US$500) fee for each candidate is beyond the reach of most parties except for the USDP, whose war chest appears huge.

The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper today announced that 37 parties would be competing in the polls, Burma’s first in two decades.

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