Burma claims 76% voter turnout

More than three quarters of Burma’s eligible voters took to polling booths last month for the country’s first elections in 20 years, government figures claim.

The average number of ballots cast across the three parliaments on 7 November was 22.18 million, Xinhua reported, or around 76 percent of the more than 29 million voters aged 18 and over. More than 4.5 million votes were either cancelled or lost.

Overall, 3,069 candidates from 37 parties ran for seats in the Peoples Parliament, Nationalities Parliament, and Regions and States Parliament, 1,148 of whom were elected. They are not due to hold their first session until February next year.

The elections were shrouded in controversy long before Burmese took to the polling booths. Laws announced in March this year appeared to heavily favour pro-junta parties, particularly the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) which eventually claimed 76 percent of parliamentary seats.

One of the main controversies leading up to 7 November centred on the collection of advance votes. While the government is legally allowed to order advance votes from Burmese living abroad, or those who are unable to reach polling booths on the day, reports of widespread coercion of Burmese nationals prior to the day emerged.

A number of opposition parties who had observers at ballot stations during the counting process claimed that any initial lead taken by them was reversed after the advance votes were factored in. It is not clear however how many of the total lodged votes announced yesterday were done in advance.

Joining the 1,148 elected candidates in will be more than 370 military personnel appointed by junta chief Than Shwe prior to the vote. The presence of a substantial number of army officials in the new parliaments has led critics to claim the elections were little more than a ploy to extend military rule in Burma.

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