Tuesday, February 27, 2024
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What the papers say

By all accounts it was a mute affair: polling stations across the country hosted desultory audiences of voters who braved the soporific atmosphere to cast ballots, while the streets of Rangoon, which the media fanfare had depicted as a carnival in the run-up to yesterday, were quiet.

Footage filmed undercover (despite a less-than-convincing crackdown on journalists) showed patchy queues outside ballot stations, and voter turnout was thought to be no more than 60 percent. A bored looking Than Shwe joined his equally jaded second-in-command on the front page of the New Light of Myanmar, as they added their support to the ‘transition’ – perhaps years of rehearsals had finally taken their toll, as both appeared ready to collapse into the ballot box and make way for a new era of military rule.

Predictably, the few results that have trickled out place the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in the lead, with the pro-junta juggernaut given a head-start by its dominance of the one-party constituencies. Rumours that USDP candidate and Rangoon mayor Aung Thein Linn was pipped at the post by the opposition National Democratic Force (NDF) have been corrected, while Democratic Party chairman, Thu Wei, who pledged to pop the cork when the results came through, struck a sombre figure today as his loss was announced. It’ll likely take days before the official winner is declared, but don’t hold your breath – candidates are already reporting that the requisite box of advance votes at the foot of every voter counter is reversing any headway made by the opposition.

China acted the counterweight to global condemnation of yesterday’s proceedings, with a leading state-run newspaper hailing the “step forward” taken by Burmese across the country, deaf as it was to the hundreds of complaints of fraud and intimidation that emerged. Barrack Obama’s prelude to the “illegitimate” vote was nothing new, and so top senator Mitch McConnell today urged the world’s most powerful man – who has been conspicuously quiet on the Burma issue – to do more.

The disbanded National League for Democracy party continued to carry the torch for Aung San Suu Kyi, and unveiled a banner outside their Rangoon office yesterday in honour of the leader. “Only five days more,” it read, anticipating the 13 November release of The Lady, whose son, Kim Aris, remains in Bangkok wrestling for a visa. “They’re unpredictable, these people,” he said of the generals who have denied mother and son communication for a decade. “We’ll see what they’ll do.”

Predictions that Burma’s border regions would erupt in violence materialised sooner than anyone could have guessed. A breakaway faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) yesterday took advantage of a distracted junta and sent 1000 troops into Myawaddy, where fighting continues today. The site of a burning police station will concern family and colleagues of Japanese journalist Toru Yamaji, who was arrested in the town yesterday. Renegade leader Na Kham Mwe, who led the assault, said the surprise move followed allegations that Burmese troops were threatening voters at gunpoint, and more than 5000 refugees have now fled to Thailand, with more arriving.

They are the first human results of yesterday’s game, and should be used as ammunition when regional neighbours, especially Thailand, emit their muffled echoes of China’s praise. “It is possible that it [violence] will carry on during the next three months, particularly during the transition from the current government to an elected government,” Abhisit said today, appended by his desire for “peace and order”. But, he added, Thailand will not “interfere in Myanmar’s [Burma] domestic affairs.”

In that case, Japan deserves some praise, having broken the trend of silent Asian nations when it spoke of its “deep disappointment” with the polls. But back inside Burma, such sentiments may be wasted among the inured population, who have asked for help so often from the international community but been provided with little. As the listless air that settled over Burma yesterday suggests, expectations these days are nil; that it was only punctuated by gunfire in the east is perhaps even more telling.


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