Five minutes before the polls closed at 4pm, my cousin, four neighbors
and I entered a school in a Rangoon suburb where two polling stations
had been set up.
I wanted to be one of the last voters. My
plan was to monitor the vote-counting process as it is my right under
the election laws: at least 10 people are allowed to observe at each
station. But like many Burmese, I felt nervous to identify myself in
front of plainclothes military intelligence. They would know my name
and address and they could come for me at anytime.
I took a deep breath and went ahead.
the international community had already condemned these elections as a
sham, I expected the voting process to be free and fair, at least on
Election Day, just to put forth a good image to diplomats and local
A policeman and local official stood near the entrance.
"Oh, you guys are late," the official said warmly. Just 15 minutes
before, a car with a loudspeakers reminded people to come to the
station before it closed.
Two stations were set up in two
separate classrooms, and my station had more than a dozen staff –
mostly women – and other men in normal clothes.
process made me dizzy: registering my name, getting the ballots,
casting a vote three times for three houses of parliament. My friends
are Karen and had to cast a fourth ballot for an ethnic parliament.
first ballot was brown and feature logos from five different parties: a
bamboo hat, lion, rice stalks, a traditional drum and fighting peacock.
men pointed to the exit. Then I said, "I want to watch vote counting"
and a girl from the last voting group raised her hand and said "I want
to watch, too."
A woman in a white blouse and a man in
plainclothes stared at me. "You need to ask permission from the
commission," he said. Then I asked the head of the polling station, a
school teacher, whose staff asked us to fill out a form with our ID
numbers, names and addresses.
Three of us signed up to monitor, and we were joined by seven men from the local government body.
"You must stay until the counting is finished," an election official said. "You will be locked in from now on."
The counting started at 4:30 pm when ballots from the first box were put on a table
shouted winning names and put the ballots in separate baskets, one for
each candidate. The winning party in the first count was from the
National Democratic Force (NDF), one of the parties in the democracy
alliance. One of the young girls with us smiled.
Her smile didn't last long.
the local commission official asked a polling staff to bring a plastic
bag with early votes, the girl whispered. 'Oh… that's a lot."
women called out the names on the early ballots. This time, the name of
the pro-regime Union Solidarity and Development Party candidate was
repeated again and again. Two USDP representatives were happy. In the
tally of early votes, the USDP won 91 votes out of 140 advanced
ballots, or about 20 percent of the overall vote count.
polling official showed a ballot marked with a tick in the box beside
the bamboo hat logo, representing the pro-democracy NDF. "Here are two
lines in the box, I discard it."
She threw out three ballots for the NDF.
counting two boxes, I found clearly that advanced ballots stood
strongly for the military's proxy party, which had a lion logo.
complained at one vote when I saw two lines on a USDP ballot. The
election official agreed to disqualify it. The commission member
reminded me that it is a decision only she can make.
counting took more than four hours and when it was over, the candidate
from the opposition party, NDF, had defeated the USDP by 40 votes and
had won the contest for a national parliament seat, at least in our
voting district, with a total of 273 votes.
But the USDP defeated the NDF by just 14 votes for a seat in the lower house, or people's parliament.
conservative party now known as the National Union Party, whose leaders
used to support dictator Ne Win in the 1980s, edged the USDP by 10
Two ethnic parties entirely defeated the USDP.
It was clear that in this polling station, the USDP could not win a seat without the early votes.
is just one of 118 stations in my township. I wonder how it would turn
out in nearly 40,000 other polling stations across the country.
day after the election, I found preliminary findings in a report for
the 2010 elections conducted by an independent and politically neutral
local association based in Burma.
The report found "advance
voting is a serious concern" based on a survey of 175 observers from
159 polling stations. The report defined the way various advance votes
were collected: Election Commission officials went door-to-door
together with USDP members, set up ballot boxes in the middle of
government offices, and visited industrial zones to sign up large
numbers of workers.
The report also said that 30 percent of vote counting was not conducted in front of the public.
was lucky I was allowed my right to observe. From my own experience at
the polling station, it was pretty clear the military had sewn up a
victory through these tactics.