YANGON — The Myanmar military's political proxy claimed an overwhelming victory on Tuesday in an election condemned as a sham by the West, as fresh fighting erupted between ethnic rebels and government forces.
Pro-democracy parties urged the authorities to act against "cheating" during Sunday's poll, in which the odds were already stacked heavily in favour of the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
"We have won about 80 percent of the seats. We are glad," said a senior USDP member who did not want to be named.
The vote appeared to have gone largely according to the junta's plans but deadly clashes between government troops and ethnic minority soldiers on Monday triggered an exodus of about 20,000 people to neighbouring Thailand.
Many of the displaced returned back across the river into Myanmar on Tuesday after government forces chased the Karen rebels back into the jungle, from where the distant sounds of fighting were heard.
State television in the armed-ruled country blamed "terrorist insurgents" for the unrest, which it said left three civilians dead and 20 injured when heavy weapons fire hit the southeastern town of Myawaddy in Karen State Monday.
It said one police officer was killed and four soldiers injured in clashes further south, near the Three Pagodas Pass.
There was no official announcement from the junta or election officials on the vote results, but the USDP had been widely expected to sweep the poll because in many areas no pro-democracy candidates were even standing.
One quarter of the seats in parliament are already reserved for military, which together with its proxy looks set to have a comfortable majority for passing laws and electing the president.
"The message they want to give, especially to their neighbours, is: don't mess with us. No matter what you do we are going to rule," said Thailand-based Myanmar analyst Aung Naing Oo.
"The military wants to have control over everything."
A new constitution requires parliament to convene at least once a year.
"Opposition groups have charged that this is an omen that the parliament will be convened only once a year," said Aung Naing Oo.
The USDP -- formed by Prime Minister Thein Sein and other former military top brass who shed their uniforms for the vote -- said election turnout was more than 70 percent, despite muted activity seen at many polling stations.
Opposition parties have complained about widespread reports of irregularities, particularly with advance ballots.
"Officials need to take action against vote cheating," Than Nyein, chairman of the National Democratic Force (NDF), told AFP.
He said the party, created by former members of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), so far appeared to have won only about 10 percent of the more than 160 seats it contested.
Thu Wai, chairman of the Democratic Party, said that when people were allowed to vote freely they had supported his party.
"But they have won with advance votes. We cannot do anything," he said.
US President Barack Obama led international criticism of the vote, saying it was "unacceptable" the regime had stolen the election, while UN chief Ban Ki-moon said it was "insufficiently inclusive, participatory and transparent".
Myanmar's Southeast Asian neighbours, however, welcomed the poll as a "significant step forward".
"ASEAN encourages Myanmar to continue to accelerate the process of national reconciliation and democratisation, for stability and development in the country," the Association of Southeast Asian Nations said in a statement released by the current chair Vietnam.
China, a key backer of the Myanmar regime, applauded the vote as a "critical step" in the transition to an elected government.
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.
The democracy icon has been detained for most of the past 20 years and her party boycotted the poll, saying the rules were unfair.
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