The British ambassador to Burma has defended the opposition National League for Democracy party’s decision to boycott today’s elections, describing the polls as a “missed opportunity” for Burma’s military regime.
Speaking from Rangoon, Andrew Heyn told DVB that Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD remained “very relevant”, despite sitting out the polls which closed at 6pm today. “Any reasonable person would understand their decision not to participate based on the conditions that were placed upon them,” he said.
The junta’s refusal to release Burma’s 2,200 political prisoners – including Suu Kyi – in advance of the vote, coupled with election laws forbidding prisoners from competing in the polls, contributed to the NLD’s decision to boycott. The party also felt participation would legitimise the 2008 constitution, which it claims does not reflect the will of the people of Burma.
The British would continue to push for Suu Kyi’s release, which is scheduled to take place on 13 November, said Heyn. “I think the fact that people are talking about it and are so interested in her release shows that the NLD remain very relevant.”
The election was not free, fair or inclusive, he said. “The UK and other countries aren’t going to turn their backs on Burma, we’re going to continue to press the authorities to make fundamental changes in the fields of human rights, the economy, democracy and national reconciliation,” he said. “If there is progress on the ground, we’ll respond to that, but these elections do not represent progress on the ground, they represent a missed opportunity.”
The UK, as well as the US, Australia and other EU nations, declined to take part in official foreign ministry tours of polling stations, citing concerns about the conditions which applied. At least 20 diplomats, mostly from Asian nations, observed voting in Mandalay today.
The British mission had nevertheless tried to gain a picture of what was going on in Rangoon and around the country. “We have had a number of reports of concerns around advance voting beforehand, and a certain sense of intimidation of voters by the USDP,” said Heyn.
There was none of the sense of anticipation and excitement that might be expected in a country which has not held elections for two decades, he said. There were no queues outside polling stations. Flawed election laws, the constitution and the way the campaign was run were reflected in the public mood, which Heyn described as “pretty low key”.