Burma elections: "attempt to consolidate authoritarian military rule"

Burma's first elections in 20 years took place over the weekend with the poll being boycotted by the main opposition party and its leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. The election has drawn its fair share of criticism with the President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek saying before the poll that "these elections may go down in history as an attempt to consolidate authoritarian military rule in a civilian guise".

People in Burma cast their votes in Yangon, 7 November 2010. ©BELGA
People in Burma cast their votes in Yangon, 7 November 2010. ©BELGA

Speaking after the election Mr Buzek said that he "deeply regrets that the Burmese authorities failed to make these elections a step towards gradual democratisation. I am disappointed that the elections have not been inclusive, free and fair".

The last elections in 1990 were won by the National League for Democracy led by Suu Kyi. Burma's military rulers annulled the result and Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest in the capital Rangoon for most of period since then. In the wake of the crackdown, Burma's people have suffered under the crushing weight of the military dictatorship which spends 40% of the country's wealth of the armed forces and 1% on health and education.

Validity of election questioned

The National League for Democracy has dismissed the 2010 elections as an attempt to put a veneer of democratic legitimacy on the dictatorship (25% of the Parliamentary seats are reserved for Generals) and declined to take part. This gave the military the pretext to bar Suu Kyi as a potential candidate.

The validity of the election has also been questioned by the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton. Prior to the election she said, "elections in themselves do not make a country democratic. The EU regrets therefore that the authorities did not take the necessary steps to ensure a free, fair and inclusive electoral process".

Journalists on the spot have reported a low turnout and massive fraud. The head of Parliament's delegation to Southeast Asia was also sceptical. German centre right MEP Werner Lang told us, "one cannot really talk of free and fair elections as several exiled media outlets reported that there seem to have been strong irregularities surrounding the elections". He finished by saying that "these elections should not be overrated".

Aung San Suu Kyi released?

One of the questions of the election and its aftermath is the position of Aung San Suu Kyi. Her House arrest is due to end on 13 November and the military government has said she will be released. Whether that promise is fulfilled or not remains to be seen as previous assurances of her release have not materialised.

In 1991, one year after getting the Nobel Prize she was awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for human rights. In his post-election statement President Buzek called for "the immediate and unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. For the people of Burma/Myanmar and the whole international community Aung San Suu Kyi has been over the last 20 years a figure of hope, human resilience and political courage".  

Burma's elections

  • First elections since 1990
  • 25% of seats reserved for generals
  • Official opposition boycotting poll
  • 45% of Burmese people have never voted