Rangoon. For doctors and nurses at the General Hospital in Naypyidaw, Burma’s the new capital, the country’s first poll in 20 years will not be optional.
On Sunday morning, they will be bused to a polling station — despite a new constitution that says voting is not compulsory.
“We are told by our superiors that we all have to gather in one place in the morning of the polling day and buses will take us all to the poll station. So they can make sure no one is left behind,” said a female doctor in her early 30s, who is working at the hospital.
She spoke on condition of anonymity.
The workers will have little to choose from: Only two parties are running in Naypyidaw, roughly 200 miles north of the former capital of Rangoon.
One is the regime-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.
The other is the National Unity Party, the former socialists who ruled the country with an iron fist for 26 years until a popular uprising in 1988.
“Since I dislike both of them, I will tick both of the parties on my ballot to spoil my vote,” the doctor added. “But I dare not stay away from group voting. They will know if I do not vote and I will be in trouble.”
Mandatory voting is one of several tactics authorities are using to pressure voters.
Other tricks include mock polls that show how to “vote correctly” for the USDP.
The opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has called for a boycott of the polls, and the international community has widely dismissed the vote as a fraud.
In Magwe, a city on the Irrawaddy River in central Burma, about 500 students at the Educational College also will be forced to vote.
A 45-year-old teacher at the school said the school’s principal had ordered students not to return to their home provinces. Instead, they must stay and vote at a small polling station in the school’s compound.
Pressure is even greater for those in rural areas. In late October, in Kyun Su village on the outskirts of Magwe, authorities called villagers to gather at a tea shop for a “voting demonstration.”
When no one appeared, the chief of the local Peace and Development Council ordered at least one person from each family to attend the mock poll.
“When about 50 villagers had gathered, he showed them how to tick for USDP,” said Ko Kyi Lin, 46, who runs a photocopy business.
“All of the villagers received USDP campaign hats and T-Shirts at the end of the demonstration.”
Even local USDP leaders are feeling the pressure to deliver votes. In a Magwe neighborhood with nearly 1,500 households, a local party leader ordered his members to pressure voters to vote for the pro-government party.
“He asked us to threaten voters if we needed to,” said Ko Tint San, in his 50s, who decided to quit the USDP after the meeting.
Today’s articles on Burma are part of a special report for the Jakarta Globe.