Burma has invited the United States, Europe, and the U.N. to join Southeast Asian nations in monitoring key elections in April amid concerns over vote transparency, officials said Wednesday. The invite came as Naypyidaw kicked out an uninvited Asian election observer and complaints piled up on electoral fraud.
“This is a welcome first step,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington, confirming the invitation.
She said that Washington would coordinate with observers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union on the monitoring of the April 1 by-election in 48 constituencies.
Nuland said that while Burma has not allowed international observers to monitor polls before, the move still falls short of international standards for complete transparency on an election, considering the limited number of invitations.
“A full-scale international observation effort would typically include quite a bit of pre-election day observation, systematic coverage on election day, post-election follow-up, and professional monitors from nongovernmental organizations,” she said.
“So we will obviously take up this opportunity to monitor, we will coordinate with ASEAN and other observers to try to maximize the impact that our observers can have, but we would obviously encourage the Burmese government to try to bring this monitoring effort as closely as they can to international standards. “
The Burmese government on Tuesday invited its fellow ASEAN members to send monitors for the elections, which are seen as a key test of the country’s commitment to reforms being introduced by the nominally civilian government of President Thein Sein, which came to power a year ago after decades of harsh military rule.
A day later, it extended the invite to American and European Union (EU) officials.
An EU official in Bangkok who did not want to be named said that at least six months of preparations are usually needed for an observation mission, Agence France-Presse reported.
A Burmese official who did not want to be named told Agence France-Presse the United Nations had also been invited to send monitors.
Burma had refused to allow international observers in its last general election in 2010, which was widely denounced as a sham.
The latest move is thought to be an attempt at improving transparency in the by-elections for parliamentary seats.
The U.S. and EU, both ASEAN dialogue partners, have said the vote will be a test of whether they will ease long-running sanctions imposed during Burma’s former rule under a military junta.
Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be a candidate in the April 1 polls, running for the first time since she was released from decades of house arrest, but her National League for Democracy (NLD) party has complained of voting fraud.
At the same time as welcoming election observers from the Western governments, Burmese officials kicked out of the country the head of a regional nongovernmental organization attempting to observe the election.
Officials deported Somsri Hananuntasuk, the executive director of the Thailand-based Asia Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), from the country Tuesday evening, the organization said.
Hananuntasuk was deported back to Bangkok after immigration officers and local authorities came to the hotel in Rangoon where she was staying with four other ANFREL members.
Officials questioned Hananuntasuk and were concerned that she had provided training to local reporters and activists on how to monitor the election, a source close to ANFREL said.
Hananuntasuk had been in Burma since March 16 on a trip to convince Burma’s Election Commission to allow ANFREL to observe the polls. ANFREL had also written to the commission in February asking for permission.
ANFREL, a network of civil society organizations that has sent election observation missions to countries through the region since 1997, had attempted to observe Burma’s general election in 2010, but officials deported some of their members on immigration charges.
Burma’s Prime Minister Thein Sein, while on a trip to fellow ASEAN member Cambodia, assured Cambodian Prime Minister that the election will be “transparent and acceptable,” Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the NLD, which boycotted the 2010 election as neither free nor fair, complained Wednesday of more voting fraud, including irregularities in voter lists and rule violations by local election committees.
“Fraud and rule violations are continuing, and we can even say they are increasing,” Aung San Suu Kyi said Wednesday, pointing to a slingshot attack on an NLD candidate and election posters cut up with knives in Naypyidaw this week.
“We want the [Burmese] government itself, not just the Election Commission, to issue an official warning or statement saying this kind of behavior is absolutely unacceptable, so that people would understand this is against the rules,” she said.
The NLD said it had found voter lists with irregularities in more townships, including Burma’s largest city Rangoon. In some townships, election committees haven't issued voter lists yet, and in others, many eligible voters don't find their names on the lists, NLD spokesman Nyan Win told RFA.
"For example, in Myaung Mya Township in Irrawaddy division, the list is posted in a faraway village, some on the list don't live in the area, deceased persons’ names are on the list, and some eligible voters are not included,” he said.
“In Mayan Gone township in Rangoon division, we were able to get over 36,000 eligible people back on the voting list after finding irregularities and reporting it to the election committee. There are still more who are not on the list yet. "
“In Taung Dwingyi township in Magway division, when we asked for a copy of the voter lists, they said they are not ready yet,” he said.
The NLD will continue reporting irregularities in voter lists to local election committees, although it will not be possible to check all the lists before April 1, he said.
He added that, in villages in Pale township in Sagaing division, the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party has been offering voters money for their ballots.