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ASEAN head lauds by-elections amid reports of interference

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) head Surin Pitsuwan praised the Burmese by-elections as “going rather well” at a conference in Phnom Penh today, as reports of interference and vote rigging grow.

“I suspect things are going rather well up to this point,” Pitsuwan told reporters in the Cambodian capital, ahead of an ASEAN summit.

“I have been in touch with the teams very, very closely and they report full enthusiasm, full alert, full awareness of all parties involved in the by-elections,” said the ASEAN head.

Reports of campaign interference have multiplied throughout the day, with allegations of people missing from voter lists and tampering with ballot boxes in several constituencies.

NLD’s election campaign coordinator Aye Thein in Rangoon division’s Kawhmu township, where Aung San Suu Kyi is contesting a seat, said he ‘no longer believes the elections are free and fair’. This echoes the sentiments expressed by Suu Kyi earlier this week, but contradicts other reports suggesting that most election monitors are satisfied there has been no foul play.

Preliminary reports suggest that two constituencies in Pyin Oo Lwin have been won by the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

Human Rights Watch has warned against premature optimism on Burma. “The April 1 by-election is not a panacea to Burma’s continuing human rights challenges and the international community shouldn’t be lulled into equating elections with reform,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

“Prematurely scrapping sanctions and blindly pursuing engagement for humanitarian assistance and foreign investment in the absence of a functioning legal framework could derail the fragile gains of the past year.”

The by-elections have been pitched as a crucial test for Burma, with international and ASEAN election monitors welcomed for the first time. Democracy icon Suu Kyi is broadly expected to take a seat in Parliament on behalf of her constituency in Kawhmu, south of Rangoon.

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