Ballot problems and delays with advance voting for Myanmar overseas voters have raised concerns among citizens over the motives of authorities in charge of managing the polling process in the run-up to the nationwide elections early next month.
Advance voting, which began last week, has been marred in one case by ballots being sent to the wrong embassy, by errors and omissions on the ballots themselves, and by incomplete voter lists and long waits to cast votes.
About 35,000 Myanmar citizens are eligible for advance voting in 37 countries.
Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC), which is responsible for managing the voting, has acknowledged the problems with voter lists and ballots at home and abroad and has vowed to ensure successful nationwide elections on Nov. 8.
Although the UEC has rescheduled advance voting past the Friday cutoff in foreign countries where problems have occurred, it has yet to rectify the situation at home.
“There are a lot of errors on voting lists because they [the UEC and authorities] don’t have good intentions to ensure error-free lists,” Yangon resident Win Tun told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“They have enough time, money and support from international organizations, but there are still many mistakes on voter lists,” he said. “People have informed the UEC about the errors, but there were still mistakes on them when they got the lists back from the UEC.”
He said that in the general elections of 1990, when there was no technological or international support, the country’s voter lists were correct.
That year, the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party won the elections, but was kept from assuming power by the military junta that ruled the country.
“Compared to the 1990 elections, it’s obvious that they don’t have a good attitude toward voters,” Win Tun said. “We often say that they are doing this intentionally.”
Ye Khine, a writer who lives in Monywa in northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing region, agreed that there were no problems with voter lists during the 1990 elections and 2008 constitutional referendum.
“We now have a lot of voter list errors for the 2015 elections,” he said. “It shouldn’t be like this because the UEC has plenty of time, billions of kyats [the country’s currency] and international support. They just need to have the will to correct errors on the voter lists.”
Sandar Lwin, a resident of Kyaukphyu in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state expressed even more skepticism about the UEC’s intentions.
“Everybody knows they [the UEC and authorities] are lying,” he said. They are not accountable. They just said that people have to check voting lists themselves.”
New ballots on the way
A large turnout of voters in Singapore, meanwhile, led to waits of more than four hours for some at the Myanmar embassy because staff members were overwhelmed by voter processing.
And the Myanmar embassy in Seoul had to reschedule advance voting for Oct. 25 after 200 of the more than 3,700 citizens who were eligible did not receive ballots, and 60 others did not have all three required ballots for casting votes for candidates for the upper and lower houses of parliament and state and division parliaments.
“We made a list of people who couldn’t vote last week and submitted it to the UEC so it could send us new ballots,” said Thant Sin of Myanmar’s embassy in Seoul.
In addition, ballots marked for Myanmar’s embassy in Japan had been erroneously sent to the embassy in Egypt.
The UEC said it has issued new ballots for citizens residing in Singapore and Japan.
Despite the problems with advance voting, NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi told supporters at a campaign rally on Wednesday that vote rigging — which the party believes tainted the last general elections in 2010 in favor of the ruling, military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) — was unlikely to occur during the advance voting in other countries.
“Myanmar citizens, who have been voting [in Singapore] since October 15, have been posting online comments about the difficulties they have encountered with voting and how they voted, “she told more than 5,000 supporters during a campaign speech in Kyington, northern Myanmar’s Shan state. “It’s not easy to do vote-rigging as was done in 2010, because most voters said they voted for the NLD.”
The NLD, which has criticized the UEC for errors and omissions on ballots, is widely expected to win the elections.
In the meantime, the UEC has announced that it will issue new identification cards for voters from Nov. 1 to 7.
The cards — which will include the voter’s name, ID number, address, township, village and polling station number — will serve as confirmation for those eligible to vote inside Myanmar on Nov. 8.
But those who do not pick up their cards or misplace them will still be able to vote, the UEC said.
About 32 million of Myanmar’s population of more than 53 million are eligible to vote in the elections, which will largely determine where the country is now headed in its transformation from an authoritarian nation to a democratic one.
Reported by Khet Mar, Kyaw Zaw Win, Moe Klyar Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.