YANGON, Nov 8 – The Myanmar military\’s political proxies on Monday looked poised to claim victory in an election condemned by the West as a farce, as a deadly clash broke out between rebels and government troops.
Three civilians were killed and 11 injured after heavy weapons fire from ethnic rebels hit the town of Myawaddy in Karen State, prompting thousands to flee across the border into Thailand a day after the poll, officials said.
With democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi still locked up and opposition leaders reporting widespread complaints of intimidation and other irregularities, many world leaders rejected the legitimacy of the election.
US President Barack Obama said the vote would be "anything but free and fair", while his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington would maintain "rigorous sanctions" against the regime while it holds political prisoners, abuses human rights and refuses dialogue with the opposition.
The electoral process was "severely flawed, precluded an inclusive, level playing field, and repressed fundamental freedoms" Clinton said.
Many areas were uncontested by pro-democracy candidates because of major financial and other hurdles.
But some saw the poll as a small step towards democracy after almost five decades of autocratic rule, with opposition parties confident of success in areas they did contest.
However, with 25 percent of the seats in parliament reserved for military appointees whatever the outcome, the two main pro-junta parties needed to win just 26 percent of the remaining seats to secure a majority.
Despite the regime\’s unpopularity, its political proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), was expected to fare well, helped by huge financial and campaigning advantages as well as a climate of fear.
In many constituencies the poll was a two-way battle 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.
Although it is unclear when the results will be announced, the poll seemed to have gone largely according to the generals\’ plan.
But the fighting in eastern Myanmar was a reminder of the simmering civil war that has wracked parts of the country since independence in 1948. Scene: Mood flat as jaded Myanmar citizens vote
About 7,000 people fled from Myanmar into Thailand and at least one rocket-propelled grenade landed over the border, injuring several people, Thai officials said.
Myanmar\’s state-controlled press on Monday featured photos of junta chief Than Shwe and other top brass voting, as well as various pictures and articles about diplomats and reporters observing the polls. Profile: Than Shwe
The European Union declined an official tour, saying conditions were too restrictive, while foreign reporters were not allowed into the country for the election.
State media said people "freely cast votes" and it announced the "winners" in 57 constituencies, 55 of which were contested by just one candidate, more than two-thirds of those with the USDP.
Two opposition parties accused the USDP — formed by ministers who retired from the military in April — of illegally collecting advance ballots.
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.
But NDF leader Khin Maung Swe said his party was optimistic about its prospects in those areas where it stood.
"I think people wanted to vote as they haven\’t voted for a long time," he said.
More than 29 million people were eligible to vote but it was uncertain how many actually cast ballots, with apathy and disillusionment widespread in the impoverished nation. Factfile on Myanmar elections
After the election, attention was turning to whether the regime will release Suu Kyi on Saturday, when her current term of house arrest is due to end. Profile: Aung San Suu Kyi
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 past 20 years, and supported a boycott of Sunday\’s election.