Pro-junta group to guard ballots

Members of the junta proxy Union and Solidarity Development Association (USDA) are being trained in lieu of their role in monitoring ballot boxes during Burma’s elections this year.

Workshops are being conducted in Rangoon and Mandalay division and Sagaing, Shan, Mon and Arakan states, by the Election Commission (EC), according to a retired government official in Sagaing division who is close to the USDA.

The government-appointed Electoral Commission has been charged as the supreme authority during polls, rumoured for October this year.

The reports will likely heighten fears about the integrity of the elections: the USDA is closely tied to the government, and is believed to be the group that spawned the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which is headed by Burmese prime minister Thein Sein and has been widely tipped to win the elections.

Furthermore, the EC head, Thein Soe, said in May that international election monitors “would not be welcome” in Burma. Critics of the ruling junta have derided the polls as a sham aimed at extending military rule in the country.

“USDA members…and those who are to become ward-level EC [members] are being trained; we believe there is a motivation for these people to guard the ballot stations to make sure the USDP wins,” said Phyo Min Thein of the Union Democracy Party, which has registered for the elections.

“Given the circumstances, questions need to be asked as to what procedures will be carried out to ensure free and fair elections, and also how fair the EC will be.”

The same training is also being given to village, ward and town-level government authorities, as well as judges and administrators, said a government worker in Taunggyi, capital of Burma’s northeastern Shan state.

Similar concerns were raised around the time of the 2008 constitution, when the government conducted training workshops for proxy groups to ensure the smooth ratification of what was widely considered an unfair and controversial procedure.

“During the constitution referendum, [authorities] were told to make sure that 92 percent votes were in favour, by any means,” said the Sagaing official. “Some villages used ordinary voting procedures and collected about 60 percent ‘yes’ votes, but [the government] ordered them to change the results to 92 percent [in favour].”

Their were reports around the time of the constitution referendum, which began barely a week after cyclone Nargis struck Burma’s southern coast, that voters were forced to mark their choice with a pencil.

The constitution then set the ball rolling for the elections this year, in which around a quarter of parliamentary seats have already been awarded to the military and which contributed to the boycott of the opposition National League for Democracy party.

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