Any slim hope that a modicum of political change might come to Myanmar after Sunday’s election were dashed as the size of the pro-military party’s victory slowly became apparent amid allegations of fraud.
The results had not been officially announced as of late Wednesday. But officials with the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party told reporters that their candidates appeared to have won as many as 80% of the seats in parliament.
The victory was widely expected because the military government, which has ruled for 48 years, wrote the constitution and the election rules to its advantage. But some observers had hoped that final results would give pro-democracy candidates 25% to 30% of the seats in parliament, allowing them enough leverage to gradually increase attention paid to bread-and-butter issues.
Six parties have accused the Union Solidarity and Development Party — which is stacked with former generals closely linked to 77-year-old paramount leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe — of election fraud, with most of the charges related to advance voting.
Even mounting a formal challenge would be an exercise in futility, many here said. “It’s authoritarianism,” said one education official who had hoped for some greater voice for opposition groups. “They weren’t satisfied with 60 or 70%. They want absolute control.”
Others said it was naive to ever think there would be a change after so many decades of military rule, citing the crackdown in 2007 against monks who were protesting the high inflation rate and allegations that the government, to maintain political control, withheld aid to its own citizens after Cyclone Nargis devastated areas of the country in 2008.
“They cheated before the vote, they cheated after,” said a Yangon resident who opted not to vote and requested anonymity. “I just hope they let the lady out. But they’ve already promised so many things and not delivered.”
“The lady” is a reference to Aung San Suu Kyi, the 65-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate and democracy activist who is scheduled to be released Saturday from house arrest. She’s been in detention for 15 of the last 21 years.
The United States, Britain, Japan and the European Union repeated calls this week to free Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy refused to take part in the election and was forced to disband. The party’s landslide victory over the army-backed incumbent in 1990, which was subsequently disallowed by the military government, , was an outcome the leaders were determined not to repeat.
China, which has strong economic links with Myanmar, also known as Burma, and Russia praised Sunday’s election as a step forward.