Burma to Allow Some Election Observers

ASEAN monitors have been invited to observe key polls amid concerns over irregularities.
2012-03-20
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ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan meets with Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon, Feb. 22, 2012.
AFP

Burma will allow observers from neighboring Southeast Asian countries to monitor upcoming elections, a regional bloc said Tuesday, as opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party charged that there were irregularities in the electoral rolls in all 48 constituencies it is contesting.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) announced that Burma has invited the organization to send five monitors as well as parliamentarians and journalists from member states to observe the April 1 by-elections, which are seen as a key test of the country’s commitment to reforms.

Burma refused to allow international observers in its last general election in 2010, which brought in a new, nominally civilian government but was widely denounced as a sham.

The latest move is thought to be an attempt at improving transparency in the by-elections for 48 parliamentary seats, although other Asian and Western groups had also sought to observe the vote.

The ASEAN monitors, along with 18 parliamentarians and journalists from the member countries, are invited to arrive in Burma four days before the polls, in which pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be running for government office for the first time since her release from years under house arrest.

List irregularities

The announcement came as her National League for Democracy (NLD)  complained that irregularities in voter lists are widespread and that in some areas, rule breaches by military-backed parties had been widespread.

“It’s only two weeks away from the by-election and voters' lists are irregular country-wide,” the NLD’s spokesman Nyan Win said Monday.

“As I understand it, the irregular voter lists are in all 48 constituencies. I think we have to say this is the failure of those who compiled the lists,” he said.

He said the NLD has also found extra people on the books in Kwahmu township in Rangoon where Aung San Suu Kyi is contesting.

“In Kwahmu, we checked 54 villages and found over 1,300 people need to be added to the voting list, while 299 already on the list need to be removed,” he said.

The irregularities have mostly appeared in lists from the countryside but also in Burma’s largest city, he said.

“It is mostly in the countryside, but even in Rangoon, such as in Mingala Taung Nyunt township, the lists are not right.”

“In Mingala Taung Nyunt, we found over 1,000 people without residency there. We don't know why they are on the list without any address. This shouldn't happen.”

The NLD is working to correct the lists. But he doubted that it would be possible to correct all of the lists in time for the vote.

“We check each individual, if someone died, if someone is not her, we make a note. Some have about 100 names with the same identification number,” he said.

“It is our duty to point out the irregularity, weakness, and to get the list right, to get a fair election,” he said.

He added that the situation had improved since the 2010 general electionwhich the NLD had boycotted as not free or fairas candidates no longer have to pay 200 kyats (U.S. $30) per page for copies of voter lists.

Rules breaches

He also charged that the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the successor party to the military regime that ruled the country for decades, had coerced voters to attend meetings, in violation of election rules.

“At the same time, the USDP has forced people in various places to attend their meetings, by threat or by giving promises to build a school etc.,” Nyan Win said.

The party is also concerned about early voting in Lanwlong Township in Burma’s southern Taninthayi region, in violation of election rules that allow preliminary voting after March 30, he said.

Credibility

U.N. special rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana has said it is important that Burma's election commission ensures the vote is fair.

"The credibility of the elections will not be determined solely on the day of the vote, but on the basis of the entire process leading up to and following election day," he said in his report this month on rights progress in Burma.

Some have questioned why Burma will not allow in experienced poll monitoring organizations and international journalists.

"ASEAN has been known over the years for holding its fire and deflecting criticism of member countries, so allowing ASEAN observers is a good start but it's hardly sufficient," Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told Agence France-Presse.

The U.S. and European Union have said a free and fair election will be a test of whether they will ease sanctions imposed on Burma during the military junta's rule.

The ASEAN group has supported Burma in calling for Western governments to lift the long-running sanctions.

In November, Burma was named to chair the bloc in 2014, though rights groups criticized the move as premature.

ASEAN comprises Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Reported by RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.