Mixed Views on Burma’s Historic Poll

As Burma’s residents went to the polls for the first time in 20 years yesterday, a Cambodian government official said any judgment passed on the election should be made by Burma’s citizens alone.

In the face of widespread international complaints that the election would be rigged and undemocratic, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday that it was not Cambodia’s role to comment on another country’s internal affairs.

“Cambodia always supports neighboring countries’ elections where the will of the people is respected. Nobody else can judge the election except for the Burmese people,” Mr Siphan said. “Democracy is different from nation to nation. Cambodia, through our own experience, respects the will of the people in each country.”

Mr Siphan added that the government hoped the “minority would respect the majority,” referring to those who voted in favor of small pro-democratic parties instead of the major military-backed parties, who were expected to dominate yesterday’s poll.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, lead researcher for political and strategic affairs at the Asean Studies Center, said in an e-mail yesterday that Cambodia and other Asean member nations were not in a position to point fingers at Burma over its democratic processes.

“Most Asean countries feel vulnerable when its comes to the issue of democratization. In looking around, not all Asean countries are truly democratic,” Mr Pavin said.

“You have a mixture of communist states, absolute monarchies, one-party states [and] semi-military regimes. This condition compels them to be less critical as they discuss the issue of democratization and human rights protection.”

SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday that Burma’s election could not be considered free or fair and added that the restrictions placed on opposition parties had some parallels with his own party’s experience in Cambodia.

“We do not support the result of this election. You can not have an election when the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was not allowed to participate,” Mr Sovann said, pointing out that his self-exiled party leader Sam Rainsy was also unable to participate in the political process because he faced a 12-year prison sentence upon return to Cambodia.


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