Burma’s state media denounced on Friday people who advocate not voting in the upcoming elections as irresponsible and antidemocratic, even though critics say the military government is using the vote to cement its grip on power.
There is no open, organized boycott movement, which would likely draw the ire of the ruling junta. But detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said that people have the right not to vote, and her National League for Democracy party is boycotting the election.
The party has called the vote unfair and undemocratic because of its restrictions, including ones that bar the Nobel peace laureate from running. Because it refused to register for the election, the party has been legally dissolved.
That has left an opposition vacuum, with no other party able to effectively confront the military. Not voting — which is legal — thus represents an alternative way to show opposition to the regime, which seized power five decades ago.
But a commentary in state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper urged everyone to vote in the Nov. 7 polls and accused foreign radio stations and activists of trying to dissuade people.
“Those deceiving the people into refusing to enjoy the right to vote right are none other than anti-democracy activists,” it said, without singling out any culprits. “If a citizen, despite having the right to vote, does not participate in elections, such a person may be deemed to be an irresponsible opportunist.”
It warned that whoever is found guilty of hindering people from voting can face a one-year prison sentence or a fine of 100,000 kyats ($100).
In all, 43 political parties have registered to contest a total of 1,163 seats, including 498 seats in Myanmar’s two-chamber Union Parliament and 665 seats spread among 14 regional parliaments.