Myanmar’s military chief will allow observers from the European Union to access military bases during the Southeast Asian nation’s historic general elections next month, the head of the EU mission said Tuesday.
Access to restricted military bases, where tens of thousands of soldiers are stationed outside their home districts, is vital to ensuring that the Nov. 8 elections are transparent.
“In the meeting with the commander-in-chief [Min Aung Hlaing], he agreed that our European Union teams would have access to military installations to observe voting there, if there are not national security considerations that are so serious enough as to not allow it,” Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, the chief observer of the EU mission and vice president of the European Parliament, told a press conference in Yangon.
Lambsdorff, who is overseeing a team of more than 150 short- and long-term election observers in Myanmar, also met with other Myanmar government officials, leaders of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USPD) and opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, and representatives from civil society groups.
Long-term EU observers, who have been in the country for a week, have been deployed to regions throughout Myanmar and in the capital Naypyidaw where they are working with candidates, election officials and journalists, he said.
The EU mission, which will observe voting, ballot counting and possible dispute resolution, will remain in the country until December to develop a comprehensive picture of the overall election process, Lambsdorff said.
“It is the task of our mission to analyze the elections comprehensively,” he said, adding that observers must examine laws governing the elections, the work of the Union Election Commission (UEC), which is responsible for the polls, campaign activities, the conduct of the media, voting technicalities, and the tabulation of results at the regional and national levels.
About two days after the elections, the EU election observer mission will issue a preliminary statement with the results of its findings, Lambsdorff said.
In three or four months, the mission will publish a long final report with recommendations for all stakeholders involved in the elections, citing areas where improvements could be made for future elections, he said.
Myanmar’s last general elections held during military rule in 2010 were boycotted by the NLD and criticized as being rigged in favor of the USDP.
“We are an impartial mission,” Lambsdorff said. “We do not care who wins this election. What we care about is that it is an election that is genuine, credible and transparent.”
The United States-based Carter Center will also send a mission to observe the elections.
‘Much more than an election’
About 32 million of Myanmar’s population of more than 53 million will be eligible to vote in the elections, which the NLD is widely expected to win.
However, NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi — whose party won the vote in 1990 but was kept out of office by the then-ruling junta — cannot assume the presidency because her sons are British citizens.
Nevertheless, the elections will largely been seen as an indication of where Myanmar is headed in its transformation from an authoritarian nation to a democratic one.
“We are fully aware that a democratic transition, of course, is much more than an election, but an election is essential to the life of any democracy, and therefore we believe that this observation mission, which will analyze these elections in many regards, can make a contribution to the transition,” Lambsdorff said.
The EU mission, however, will not observe advance voting by Myanmar citizens who live outside the country or cannot otherwise reach polling places in the country, he said.
Tin Aye, chief of the UEC, has met with leaders from nearly 70 political parties to discuss advance voting, the ballots from which will be tallied at 4 p.m. on Election Day.
Although the NLD has complained of omissions on the printed ballots, Tin Aye said he is doing what he can to ensure the success of the elections.
“I met with people from Foreign Affairs Ministry yesterday and told them that I want to help resolve advance voting problems [for Myanmar nationals] in Thailand, Singapore and South Korea,” he said. “I will send new voting ballots to them if we can get them there in time. Although we want to help them, we cannot print additional ballots beyond what is needed.”
Meanwhile, nearly half of the students detained earlier this year following a violent police crackdown on a peaceful protest against the country’s education law in the central Myanmar town of Letpadan have rejected advance voting because they do not trust the UEC, according to jailed student leader Min Thway Thit.
Those who have informed prison officials that they will not participate have been made to sign a statement, he said.
In areas of the country plagued by ongoing hostilities between the Myanmar army and armed ethnic groups, some candidates have indicated that they are concerned about voters not showing up at the polls on Election Day because of safety concerns.
In northern Myanmar’s Shan state, more than 2,000 residents from five villages have recently fled because of fighting.
“People are not interested in voting because they have to be on the run,” said Nang Kaung Khan, a candidate from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) party. “Voting is a thing of secondary importance to them. I am concerned about the elections because of this.”
Eight armed ethnic groups signed a nationwide cease-fire with the government last week, but others remain embroiled in sporadic clashes with the national army.
Reported by By Myo Zaw, Aung Theinkha, Khin Pyae Sone, Kyaw Thu and Thiri Min Zin for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.