09/29/2015, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Military and outgoing government cast a long shadow over Myanmar’s elections

Experts and activists slam manipulations that could cast doubts on the upcoming elections. Vote rigging, threats, and extremist nationalist rhetoric have marred the campaign so far. For Burmese artist, intimidation and insecurity are widespread but the NLD can still obtain a good score.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – The shadow cast by the military and the ruling party over Myanmar’s upcoming parliamentary election on 8 November is getting longer and longer, this according to analysts, experts and human activists.

The impartiality and fairness of the process is already vitiated by the current constitution, which reserves 25 per cent of all seats to appointed senior military officers and representatives.

Under such circumstances, the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the political mouthpiece of the former ruling military junta, needs to win another quarter of all seats plus one to secure a majority to elect the next president.

Unlike the 2010 elections, which the National League for Democracy (NLD) had boycotted, this time, the country appears to be genuinely embarked on a path of reform and change. However, the process of democratisation has suffered a sharp slowdown in recent months.

Still, more than 30 million Myanmese are eligible to vote in the first elections open to all of the country’s political parties, about 90 in all, including the NLD. The latter had won the election in 1990, but the generals refused to accept the poll result.

The next parliament will pick a new president, a position from which the Nobel Peace laurate is excluded by virtue of a law tailored made for her.

The USDP remains the front-runner; however, analysts and experts have slammed the ruling party for using state funds and institutions to promote their campaign and to buy votes.

Uncertain about the final outcome, USDP strategists appear ready to carry out large-scale rigging, and use religion – Buddhism – and nationalism to stay in power

Armed militias and the military will play a role in war-torn regions. They are expected to engage in psychological warfare to discourage voters and achieve a low turnout.

Indeed, the situation is such that more and more people are appealing to the government, outgoing President Thein Sein, and the international community to monitor closely the vote to ensure that the elections are truly "free and fair".

One of them is Kyaw Thu, a 56-year-old Burmese artist and human rights activist who is the 2015 Ramon Magsaysay Award laureate. The latter is considered the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

Thu is the co-founder and president of the Yangon-based Free Funeral Services Society (FFSS), which enables families from different religious and ethnic backgrounds to bury their loved ones with dignity.

For him, intimidation and growing insecurity are important tools to influence the final election result, aided and abetted by amnestied criminals, pro-regime armed militias, organised thugs, aggressive monks, and local authorities.

Still not everything is lost. "The NLD can still get a good result", he said, especially if it gets the support of ethnic militias that not aligned with the military.

Card Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of Yangon, also spoke about the country’s upcoming election.

Despite the problems, he said he wants to see free, fair and transparent elections in order to restore confidence in the country and give new impetus to the process of democratisation after 50 years of "tears and blood".

Calling “upon rulers and the people to make the forthcoming election a true exercise in democracy,” he urged candidates to favour mutual respect and lasting peace.

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