Foreign diplomats to witness polling

Overseas diplomats in Burma will be allowed to view proceedings at a select number of polling stations around the country, the Election Commission (EC) has announced.

The Rangoon-based Eleven Media Group quoted a returning officer as saying he had been told to expect visits by embassy representatives during the 7 November polls. The diplomats – and possibly employees of UN agencies based in Burma – are likely to be the only foreigners allowed to observe the polls, which critics claim will be neither free nor fair.

The junta has already forbidden overseas election watchdogs from monitoring the process. Thein Soe, the former military officer who chairs the EC, said Burma had no need for such observers because it already had plenty of experience holding elections.

The country’s last polls took place in 1990. That year Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won by a landslide but the ruling junta refused to accept the results. Suu Kyi has spent most of the last 20 years under house arrest, and remains one of almost 2,200 political prisoners currently held in Burmese jails.

Thein Soe said last month that foreign journalists would also be forbidden from observing the polls. “Concerning the journalists, there are resident representatives of the international news agencies in our country, and press statements will be released in a timely manner about the elections. So there is no need to allow foreign reporters to cover the elections,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

The “resident representatives of the international news agencies” referred to by Thein Soe have been told to attend mandatory field trips during the elections, according to the ABC Asia Pacific News Centre. “The journalists will be sent to different parts of the country to accompany diplomats on state-sponsored guided tours,” it added.

Last month Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres ranked Burma’s press environment as the fifth most repressive in the world.

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