Voting infractions ‘wouldn’t alter result’

Despite breaches of standard election procedures being witnessed at polling booths last week, they were not significant enough to drastically alter the result, a recent report claims.

The report, drawn up on 8 November and titled Preliminary Findings Report, uses surveys from 175 election observers who witnessed proceedings at polling stations last week. The document is anonymous, but bills the authors as an “independent and politically neutral local association” based in Burma.

“The administration of the poll was generally smooth and most regulations were followed: 71 percent of observers reported that the voting process was efficiently handled,” it says.

“Infractions were observed in many polling stations, though probably not on a scale that would significantly shift the overall result of the election.”

It comes as anger at Burma’s first elections in 20 years continues to boil, with various opposition parties accusing the junta-appointed Election Commission of using poorly-scrutinised advance votes to ensure victory for its proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

“Concern about the conduct of advance voting is widespread,” the report acknowledged. “How it has been carried out varies significantly from place to place. Voters have expressed worry that the secrecy of their advance votes was not guaranteed.”

Restrictive election laws announced in March this year ensured that the USDP would emerge as the strongest contender: its bottomless war chest meant it could field candidates in 1112 of the 1158 constituencies, as well as entice voters with the incentive of low-interest loans. Smaller parties on the other hand struggled to offer any significant competition.

Much of the pre-election media coverage in state-run outlets was reserved exclusively for the USDP, which is headed by Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein, despite there being 37 parties competing in total.

A survey by the Slovakian-based media watchdog, MEMO 98, said that between 4 and 31 August, when it carried out a study of political bias in both state-run and independent media outlets, Thein Sein accounted for 56 percent of coverage on the MRTV, Burma’s main television broadcaster. On MRTV 4, he received 77 percent.

The USDP was also given clandestine access to state resources, and reportedly held party events in state-owned buildings such as schools, which is banned under Burmese law.

The report said that the “abuse of state resources was one of the most widespread problems during the campaign period”.

It said that “97 percent of observers reported that the state’s financial and material resources were not equally used by political parties and candidates for campaign activities. This is primarily a reflection of the longstanding close relationship between USDP and the government.”

It added however that “the extent to which voters were actually swayed by the USDP’s greater resources is not yet known”.

The election results so far announced by the Burmese government put the USDP in a clear lead, with nearly 400 seats across the three parliaments. The next closest party, the National Unity Party (NUP), which is also considered pro-junta, has won only 18 seats.

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