Citizens to Monitor Elections

Burmese democracy campaigners heighten scrutiny on an election marked by 'irregularities.'
2012-03-23
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Burmese activist Ko Ko Gyi speaking on Feb. 17, 2012 after his release from almost two decades in prison.
AFP

A Burmese pro-democracy group has formed a network of civilian observers to monitor upcoming parliamentary elections amid concerns over transparency and fraudulent voter rolls, a leader of the group told RFA on Friday.

Ko Ko Gyi, a formerly jailed top leader of the 88 Generation Students group, said the move is aimed at increasing civil society involvement in Burma’s political process, now slowly opening up under reforms begun by an army-backed civilian government following decades of harsh military rule.

“If we can establish free and unbiased citizen observation in this election, we can have credible elections with more citizen participation in the future,” said Ko Ko Gyi, who was released on Jan. 13 in an amnesty after serving 18 years in prison for challenging army rule.

The monitoring group will closely watch the campaign leading up to the April 1 election, the voting itself, and the counting of votes afterward, with special attention paid to reports of irregularities, he added.

“To collect and compile our data, we have announced our contact phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and Facebook pages where people can send us messages,” Ko Ko Gyi said.

“We will also network with media inside Burma, collect information online, and compile archives from radio broadcasts.”

The group will make a final report on the conduct of the election available to media both in Burma and abroad after the vote, he said.

Network members will be present at polling stations in the 48 constituencies where the vote will be held, though time constraints may now make it difficult to thoroughly cover all areas, he said.

Irregularities

Meanwhile, democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD)—now  contesting an election for the first time since it won a 1990 vote but was denied power by the ruling junta—complained this week of procedural irregularities in the run-up to the April 1 vote.

In some townships, election committees haven’t issued voter lists, and in others, the names of eligible voters sometimes don’t appear, NLD spokesman Nyan Win said.

“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.

And in a township in the country’s former capital Rangoon, “we were able to get over 36,000 eligible people back on the voting list after finding irregularities and reporting them to the election committee,” Nyan Win said.

Burma’s nominally civilian government has invited the U.S., EU, and U.N. to send observers to monitor the April 1 election together with observers from neighboring Southeast Asian nations.

The government of President Thein Sein, which took power in March last year, has introduced initial reforms welcomed by the international community, which sees the April 1 by-elections as a key test of the country’s commitment to opening up.

The earlier military junta had refused to allow international observers in the country’s last general election in 2010, which was widely denounced as a sham.

Canceled in Kachin

Meanwhile, election authorities canceled voting in three constituencies in northern Kachin state, citing “security concerns.”

Kachin has been the scene of frequent and continuing clashes between government forces and ethnic rebels who have long sought greater autonomy in the region.

The Election Commission announced on state television Friday that voting has been postponed in Mogaung, Phakant, and Bamaw constituencies and that polling will be held when security conditions improve.

Tu Ja, a former leader of the Kachin Independence Organization—the political wing of the Kachin ethnic group—is running from Mogaung constituency as an independent candidate.

Burma's military significantly increased an offensive against Kachin rebels this week as the international community shifts its attention toward the by-elections, the Kachin News Group, an exile media agency, said on Friday.

Battles between army columns and Kachin forces have occurred on a daily basis throughout Kachin and northern Shan states since the latest round of talks with the government on March 8-10 failed to reach a peace agreement, the agency said.

Reported by Nayrein Kyaw for RFA’s Burmese service. Translations by May Zaw Khin. Written in English by Richard Finney.