Friday, 16 May 2008

Surprised voters learn junta cast votes for them in 'rigged' referendum

Mizzima News

New Delhi – After 18 years without a chance to vote, many Burmese showed up at polling stations on May 10 only to find out that their votes have been cast in advance.

Mungpi - A government official in Burma's second largest city of Mandalay said that was because she and her colleagues had worked over night on the eve on the constitutional referendum illegally casting votes on their behalf.

The official, secretary of a ward in Mandalay that controls seven polling booths, said she was awakened at midnight on the eve of the May 10 referendum and was handed several ballot papers. Her superiors had earlier informed her that she would have to work that night.

"My colleagues and I were asked to tick [yes] on the ballot papers for people in our neighborhood without their knowledge," she said.

It was one of the most blatant examples of vote-rigging carried out by the military regime, which announced Thursday that the draft constitution has been approved by 92.4 percent of voters. Reports of similar ballot tampering surfaced in Kachin State, Shan State, Sagaing Division, Pegu Division and Magwe Division.

In Mandalay, the official said they called headmen, the leaders of 100 houses, who had the list of names eligible voters, and asked them to enter the names of people living in their localities into the register book.

"All of our office staff were busy working the whole night and marking the ballots with 'yes'," said the official, who asked not to be named. She also requested the name of the ward she is working in to be withheld for fear of reprisal.

On the next day, when the polls opened at 6 a.m., the official turned away several voters in whose names votes had been previously cast.

"We couldn't finish all the ballots that were handed to us, as the night ran out," said the official. "We managed to get 5,405 ballots ticked out of more than 6,000 ballots that were given to us."

"We did not get even a wink of sleep that night," the official said.

The official, however, was not the only one to do the overnight job on the eve of the poll.

A police officer in charge of a township in Mandalay said he was on the road and carrying ballots on a government jeep to various ward offices in the township he controlled.

"I have to oversee that the ballots are brought from the township office to the wards [for advance voting]," the police officer, who requested not to be identified, told Mizzima.

The police officer said he handed the ballots to the ward officials, who then spent the night ticking 'yes.'

"It is a funny way of voting," the officer said, laughing.

As a result of the overnight work by government officials, many voters who came to the polling station on May 10 were surprised.

In a random telephone call on May 10 to voters in Maha Aung Myea Township of Mandalay, several women said they were told their ballots had already been cast.

"I was told only to sign the register book next to my name and was told that my vote had been collected," a women voter said.

A company manager told Mizzima that several of his colleagues who went to vote at polling station no. 390-391, in the government primary school no. 34 in west Thanhlyet Maw in Maha Aung Myea Township, came back without voting.

"The officials told them their votes have been cast in advance and they only needed to sign. They did not know that they had ever voted," he added.

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