US-Based Observation Mission Finds Flaws Ahead of Poll
|A woman casts a ballot during Burma’s 2010 general election. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)|
By Feliz Solomon
October 28, 2015
While pre-election activity has been largely peaceful and unrestricted, issues remain over political space, disenfranchisement and observer access to advance votes.
RANGOON — The US-based Carter Center on Tuesday published its assessment of the campaign period leading up to Burma’s landmark Nov. 8 general election, concluding that issues remain over political space, disenfranchisement and observer access to advance votes.
In its second statement on the election campaign period, covering events through Oct. 20, the Carter Center said that while pre-election activity had been largely peaceful and unrestricted, observers were informed of a number of incidents of intimidation and physical attacks against political party members.
Party representatives and community members also expressed concern about the “potentially disruptive use of nationalist and religious rhetoric,” particularly by the Buddhist nationalist Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha.
As of Oct. 20, the Carter Center was aware of 40 complaints submitted to election commissions nationwide, including four related to Ma Ba Tha’s misuse of religion during the campaign period. Complainants had not yet received any official responses to those disputes, the report said.
Observers were also aware of 94 campaign-related incidents reported to the police. Cases were opened for 78 of those complaints—62 of them pending investigation. At least five cases involved physical attacks against members of the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).
Dispute resolution bodies established by the Union Election Commission (UEC) were nonetheless found to have been “effective in resolving some issues,” the report said, citing a complaint filed by the Arakan National Party (ANP) against the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in western Burma.
Other issues of “uneven” political space involved areas under the control of ethnic armed groups, noting that armed forces had either threatened campaign restrictions or warned that they couldn’t “guarantee” candidates’ security in Kachin, Karen and Shan states.
Also on Tuesday, the UEC announced that it would cancel the polls in two additional townships and several village tracts in conflict-affected Shan State, increasing no-vote areas to part or all of 16 townships in the state to date.
While the center’s assessment did not factor in Tuesday’s announcement, it did address the “larger-than-expected” amount of villages where voting had already been cancelled.
“A lack of transparency about what criteria were used in making the determination has raised suspicions in some of the affected areas and in the national media, though many of the cancellations do appear to be in areas with legitimate security issues,” the report said, noting that the number of parliamentary seats that will remain vacant after the poll—particularly in Shan State—added to existing concerns about disenfranchisement.
In addition to limiting participation in conflict-affected areas, the center raised concern about disenfranchisement in Arakan State, where hundreds of thousands of stateless Rohingya Muslims lost their right to vote earlier this year, despite being allowed to participate in previous polls.
In the state’s northern Maungdaw District, where only a “small minority of the population” will be allowed to vote, observers found that “authorities have made little attempt to ensure that voter lists were displayed in Muslim Rohingya-majority villages, or that voter education programs reached the population in those villages.”
The report also warned that a “Pre-election security crackdown targeting Muslim communities” had exacerbated existing communal tensions in the northern part of the state, which in recent years has suffered a series of deadly riots that left more than 100,000 mostly Muslim villagers in squalid displacement camps.
The Carter Center—which is one of a number of international election observation missions accredited by Burmese authorities—issued a number of recommendations to the government and the UEC, including the release of two activists recently arrested for sharing satirical content on social media. Since the end of the reporting period, two other citizens have been charged under the same provisions.
The center also stressed the need for timely resolution of election-related disputes and reiterated its request to observe advance voting procedures, including ballots cast by the military and other security forces, referring to the denial of access as “unfortunate.”
The Carter Center was invited to observe the 2015 general election by the Burmese government in March of this year, and has a core four-person team based in Rangoon. Six long-term observers will be deployed to various states and regions, while a larger team of short-term observers will cover all states and regions beginning in early November.
The center will issue a preliminary statement of findings on Nov. 10, two days after the poll, and a final report will be published in the months following the election.
Tuesday’s report was based on field observations from Irrawaddy, Magwe, Mandalay and Pegu regions, as well as Arakan, Kachin, Karen, Karenni and Shan states.