Myanmar’s Election Commission said Wednesday that it will consider extending the poll campaign period by one month in view of logistical problems, especially to give political parties enough time to meet constituents in remote regions, according to an official of the country’s main opposition party.
Tin Aye, chairman of the government-appointed Union Election Commission (UEC), said at a meeting with political parties in the capital Naypyidaw that the panel would look into the prospect of lengthening the campaign period to 60 days, according to Tun Tun Hein of the National League for Democracy (NLD).
“The NLD and other ethnic [political] parties have requested that [the campaign period] be extended [to 60 days],” Tun Tun Hein told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“At first, [Tin Aye] said 30 days is a sufficient campaign period for an election, based on the experience of many countries. But for Myanmar, we have transportation and other difficulties. After we explained this to the commission, Tin Aye said he would consider our request.”
Tun Tun Hein said the commission agreed to hold an internal meeting to debate extending the campaign period ahead of a series of by-elections at the end of the year and general elections in 2015.
The election chief did not provide a timeframe for making a decision.
Tun Tun Hein said Wednesday’s meeting, which was arranged because the NLD and several other political parties wanted to propose amendments to election rules laid out in a UEC directive last month, also focused on definitions for party campaigns, political rallies and meetings with the media.
“[The commission] promised us that they will organize an election that will be ‘free and fair’,” he said.
“They will also allow international and civil society organizations to monitor the election.”
In addition to the NLD, the other parties in attendance at the meeting consisted of the Zomi Democratic Party, Democracy and Human Rights Party, Mon National Party, Wa National Unity Party and Kaman National Progressive Party.
The UEC stated in a July 1 directive that it had settled upon campaign rules, which it said would ensure a free and fair election, including limiting parties to campaigns beginning 30 days before the election, and prohibiting them from canvassing on the day before the polls, according to a report by the Irrawaddy online journal.
In order to give a speech or hold a public rally, candidates must submit an application to the local constituency election commission office within 15 days of the candidates’ names for that constituency being announced, the report said. For public speeches and rallies held at political parties’ own offices, two days advance notice must be given.
Applications to hold rallies must include the place, date, time and duration of the event, and details of any speakers, information about the applicant and whether vehicles will be used in the rally, according to the rules. The commission said it will grant permission after scrutinizing the applications.
Opposition parties have objected to the rules, saying they will make it difficult to campaign freely.
On July 21, the NLD issued a 10-point proposal suggesting amendments to the election rules, including appointing UEC officials who have been free of party affiliation for at least five years before the election, according to a report by Eleven news media.
Another proposal involved extending the deadline for township election sub-commissions to accept advance ballots on the morning of Election Day, the report said.
According to a report by the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), several NLD officials met with the UEC at its headquarters in Naypyidaw on Aug. 1 to discuss its proposal.
Citing Win Myint, NLD central committee member, the report said that seven of the proposed amendments were accepted by the UEC, including extending the campaign period to 60 days from the 30-day period it had announced in July.
Win Myint said the UEC had rejected the proposals to extend the deadline for advance ballots and the requirement that its officials abstain from party affiliation for a prescribed period of time. Myanmar’s constitution stipulates that members cannot belong to a party, but does not specify for how long.
According to DVB, Win Myint said that “the UEC committed to releasing orders to implement the changes,” with regard to the accepted proposals, though the commission has never officially announced any change to the campaign period.
Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, NLD officials and leaders of various ethnic parties held discussions to seek common ground on potential amendments to the election rules, according to local media.
The UEC has faced criticism for tightening election regulations, especially ahead of the highly anticipated general elections next year. Thirty-one seats will be up for grabs in by-elections at the end of 2014 across the country.
The upcoming elections are seen as a test for democratic reforms introduced by President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government since taking power from the former military junta in 2011.
Thein Sein was voted into office in 2010 general elections which were widely seen to be fraught with irregularities. The polls, which were Myanmar’s first in decades, were boycotted by the NLD because of election laws the party claimed were undemocratic.
By-elections held in April 2012 saw 43 opposition members land seats in the country’s newly-formed parliament, lending some credibility to the government.
Among the opposition members elected to parliamentary seats was Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the NLD, who had formerly been under house arrest for years.
However, the government has faced criticism for standing by a clause in Myanmar’s junta-drafted constitution that bars the Nobel laureate from seeking the presidency in 2015 because her sons have British citizenship.
Reported by Win Naung Toe and Yadanar Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.