9 Nov 2010

Low turnout, irregularities in Myanmar vote

5:52 am on 9 November 2010

Reports of low turnout and irregularities have emerged as people in Myanmar, formerly Burma, voted in the country's first election in two decades.

An opposition call for a boycott seems to have been heeded, with reports of voter turnout as low as 35% in some areas.

Two parties linked to the ruling military junta dominated the poll, while opposition candidates faced obstacles to taking part.

Some voters said they could not vote in private, while opposition groups allege state employees were pressured to back the main pro-military party.

Andrew Heyn, Britiain's ambassador in the country's biggest city, Rangoon, says the election has been disappointing.

New Zealand's minister of foreign affairs and trade, Murray McCully, says yesterday's election was neither free nor fair.

Mr McCully says electoral laws put restrictions on registration, campaigning and access to a free press. As well, those laws created significant impediments to full participation by opposition parties.

Mr McCully says New Zealand has repeated its calls for the immediate release of thousands of political prisoners, including pro-democracy leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi.

Myanmar has been placed under a 90-day state of emergency, which prevents political gatherings and stops soldiers from leaving the military for three months.

Results may not be known for several days, but at least one ethnic politician has apparently won a seat in Shan state, the ABC reports.

The ruling generals say the polls mark a transition to democratic civilian rule but critics say they are a sham.

Most candidates were from two big parties linked to the military - the Union Solidarity and Development Party and the National Unity Party. The National League for Democracy, the main opposition party led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, boycotted the vote.

Foreign media and observers have been banned and getting reliable information is difficult.

Candidates supporting the military are expected to win the most seats.

The vote will not bring an end to Western sanctions, but could reduce Myanmar's isolation in Asia.

United States President Barack Obama said the election was anything but free and fair.