Myanmar's Suu Kyi set to probe election fraud

Nov 10 2010 - 9:20am

YANGON, Myanmar -- Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi will help investigate charges of election fraud if and when she is released from house arrest this week, a close political colleague said Wednesday.

Nyan Win, a spokesman for her National League for Democracy, said the group -- which was officially disbanded as a political party but remains active -- has established a committee to probe allegations of fraud in last Sunday's polls, the country's first in two decades.

Suu Kyi's party boycotted the election, charging it was being held under unfair and undemocratic conditions.

The polling sparked violence and fears of civil war among Myanmar's ethnic minorities, who make up about 40 percent of the population. Some have fought the central government since Myanmar gained independence from Britain in 1948.

Suu Kyi's intention to re-enter the political fray, especially in a manner that would embarrass the junta, poses the sort of challenge the military has met in the past by locking her up again. The 65-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner has been detained for 15 of the past 21 years.

The ruling military's proxy party has said it won a sweeping victory, but critics accuse it of widespread vote-rigging. Independent outside observers and Western leaders, including President Barack Obama, have said the election was neither free nor fair.

An official who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the press, said although no official instructions have been made about Suu Kyi's possible release, "necessary security preparations are being made on the ground."

The NLD's dilapidated headquarters in Yangon was bustling Wednesday with party members tidying up Suu Kyi's old office. Her term of house arrest is due to expire Saturday.

Nyan Win expressed confidence she would be freed. Suu Kyi was convicted last year of violating the terms of her previous detention by briefly sheltering an American man who swam uninvited to her lakeside home.

"She has to be freed as there is no law under which her detention can be extended," said Nyan Win. But he added Suu Kyi would not accept her release if there were any conditions attached to her freedom. In the past, the military has refused to let her travel out of Yangon, fearing her popularity could encourage dissent.

The election was a key stage of the ruling junta's "road map to democracy" -- a process it has controlled every step of the way to ensure it would retain a commanding role in government, even with the ostensible restoration of civilian rule. No official election results have been announced.

Nyan Win said Suu Kyi "will actively get involved in the (fraud investigating) committee and give advice when she is released." He said the committee would hold hearings and gather evidence of election malpractice from independent election monitoring groups.

"We will compile a list of election fraud reports and expose the election irregularities," said Nyan Win. "This is the ugliest election I have ever encountered. There is enormous amount of unfair activity all over the country."

The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party has so far captured 77 percent of the parliamentary seats, a senior party leader said Wednesday.

There was never much doubt about the outcome because the USDP fielded candidates in nearly every district, while the largest anti-government party was able to contest only 164 of the 1,159 parliamentary seats at stake. Campaign rules also limited challengers' chances.

But those parties that challenged the USDP still expressed shock at what they alleged was blatant and widespread vote-rigging.

The country's second biggest party, the National Unity Party -- an outgrowth of the political machine of late strongman Gen. Ne Win -- has joined the chorus of critics.

"The election process is absolutely unfair," said 82-year-old retired Brigadier Aye San, a senior NUP official who claimed many cases of fraud.

Clashes starting Sunday between ethnic rebels and government troops have killed at least three people -- according to state media -- and prompted an exodus of about 20,000 refugees across the border into Thailand. Many of them headed home Tuesday after the fighting subsided at the Thai-Myanmar border town of Myawaddy.

But about 1,000 refugees still remained on Thai soil opposite the Three Pagoda Pass, another site of clashes in recent days.

Several ethnic groups that field potent guerrilla armies refused to take part in the elections. Human rights groups have warned of possible civil war as ethnic groups are pressured by the government to accept a new constitution that offers them little autonomy.

The U.N. and human rights groups have detailed killings, rape, torture, forced labor and burning of villages in Myanmar as the regime campaigns to deny the rebels support from the civilian population. Thailand already shelters a quarter-million ethnic minority refugees from brutal campaigns by the Myanmar army.

Associated Press photographer Apichart Weerawong in Mae Sot, Thailand, and writer Thanyarat Doksone in Bangkok contributed to this report.


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