Yangon, Nov 8 (AFP) Myanmar today counted ballots in its first vote in 20 years as Western governments lashed out at the military-ruled nation for orchestrating an election that junta-backed parties look set to easily win.
With democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi still locked up and two pro-junta parties fielding about two-thirds of the total candidates, world leaders rejected the legitimacy of the poll in a broadside of statements.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi swept her party to power in 1990 but the result was never recognised by the ruling generals. She has been detained for most of the last 20 years and supported a boycott of Sunday's election.
US President Barack Obama said the vote would be "anything but free and fair", while his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US would maintain "rigorous sanctions" against the regime while they hold political prisoners, abuse human rights and ignore dialogue with the opposition.
"The generals who have ruled the country for the past 22 years missed an opportunity to begin genuine transition toward democratic governance and national reconciliation," Clinton said.The electoral process was "severely flawed, precluded an inclusive, level playing field, and repressed fundamental freedoms," said Clinton, the chief US diplomat.
Yet while conditions for the vote have been widely criticised, some saw the poll as a small step towards democracy after almost five decades of autocratic rule, with opposition parties set to finally get a voice in parliament.
Despite the generals' unpopularity, their political proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), was widely expected to win, helped by huge financial and campaigning advantages as well as a climate of fear.
In many constituencies the poll was a two-horse race between the USDP and the National Unity Party (NUP), which is the successor to late dictator Ne Win's party and also closely aligned with the military.
A quarter of the seats in the two-chamber national parliament and regional legislatures are reserved for military appointees whatever the outcome. It is unclear when the results will be announced.Two opposition parties accused the USDP -- formed by ministers who retired from the military in April -- of illegally collecting advance ballots.
"My sense is that there were certainly cases of intimidation," said Britain's ambassador to Myanmar, Andrew Heyn, who expressed concern about the many anecdotal reports of advance voting irregularities.
"These votes are very open to abuses," he told AFP.The National Democratic Force (NDF), created by former members of Suu Kyi's disbanded party, said some people had complained that they were told by the USDP there was no need to vote as their ballots had already been collected.PTI