'Anything but Free and Fair' West Blasts Burmese Elections

US President Barack Obama and several other Western leaders have condemned Sunday's elections in Burma for being neither free nor fair. Early results show widespread success for military backed candidates, but the opposition says manipulation was rampant.

Burmese elections on Sunday were "anything but free and fair," said US President Barack Obama.
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Burmese elections on Sunday were "anything but free and fair," said US President Barack Obama.

Burma state television on Sunday reported that voters in the country were turning out "freely and happily" to cast their ballots in the first election held in the isolated country in 20 years.

But outside the borders of the Southeast Asian country, others weren't so sure. US President Barack Obama said that the election was "anything but free and fair" and said the vote did not meet "internationally accepted standards. British Foreign Minister William Hague said the election results were "already a foregone conclusion" and said "holding flawed elections does not represent progress." European Union foreign policy head Catherine Ashton also called on the Burmese military to allow for more inclusiveness.

The opposition magazine Irawaddy, which is published by Burmese exiles and is well sourced in the country, is reporting widespread irregularities on Monday, including ballot box stuffing and the suspension of vote counts when it became clear that opposition parties were leading. "What happened on Sunday was more repressive and illegal than most observers could have imagined," the magazine wrote on its website.

Early official results indicate widespread success for military-backed candidates with reports indicating that turnout was low. Burma's main democratic opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), boycotted the vote, and the two primary parties standing for election, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the National Unity Party (NUP), both have close ties to the military and are led by former generals.

Fighting on the Border

The last time Burma held elections, in 1990, the NLD scored an overwhelming victory behind human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi. But the military never allowed the NLD to take power and Suu Kyi, who has since been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, has been under house arrest for 15 of the last 21 years. Her most recent period of detention ends on Saturday and the United States, Britain, the European Union and Japan have made repeated calls for the military junta that rules Burma to release her.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, both of whom are currently in Australia for talks, issued a joint statement with their hosts on Monday reading: "Australia and the United States underlined their deep regret that the Burmese authorities failed to hold free, fair and genuinely inclusive elections."

Election rules reserved 25 percent of all seats in parliament for the military -- enough to block constitutional amendments, which require a 75 percent majority. Foreign journalists were not allowed into the country to observe the vote.

Fighting erupted on Monday between rebels from the ethnic minority Karen and Burmese government soldiers. Several thousand fled over the border into neighboring Thailand and several were wounded. Burma's many minorities fear that the election could eliminate any possibility for the autonomy for which they have been fighting for years.

cgh -- with wire reports

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