Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Pressure builds over advance voting

As advance voting kicks off todayofficially at least – the Carter Center has reiterated its recommendation to the Union Election Commission to allow groups to “fully” observe the voting process, the transparency of which remains one of the major points of concern among political parties.

UEC director general U Tin Htun displays an election registration document for overseas voters during a press conference in Nay Pyi Taw on October 27. Photo: AFPUEC director general U Tin Htun displays an election registration document for overseas voters during a press conference in Nay Pyi Taw on October 27. Photo: AFP

The Carter Center made a similar recommendation to the commission more than a month ago, but in an October 27 report it said no action had been taken.

The report noted that observers will not have access to “the casting of ballots during out-of-constituency advance voting”, including that which will be conducted in military installations.

“It is unfortunate that observers are not able to observe fully this part of the process,” the report said. “In order for observers to effectively monitor out-of-constituency advance voting and comment on the integrity of the process, they must be able to observe the actual casting of the ballots so as to assess the degree to which ballots are cast in secret, by the actual voter, without intimidation.”

The Carter Center said the UEC has also admitted that there will be no centrally gathered information available on the number of the advance voting requests or schedules for those advance voters sending out-of-constituency ballots.

The entire process will operate beyond the eyes of the more than 9000 domestic observers that have already been accredited, as well as international groups, such as the Carter Center, the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) and the European Union.

Frederick Rawski, field office director for the Carter Center’s Myanmar office, said the UEC had cited “security reasons” for not allowing observers to watch voting among soldiers, while “unnecessary logistical burdens” was the reason it gave for not allowing the monitoring of advance voting by civil servants.

“At the moment, we do not have any reason to believe that they will change their minds,” Mr Rawski said, adding that there was no way of knowing how many advance votes will be cast within military installations.

The Carter Center also urged the commission to take action on complaints submitted by political parties and candidates, particularly those regarding the misuse of religion during the campaign. Police have received 94 incident reports, having opened a case for 78 of them and started investigations on 62.

There is no public explanation for how some incidents are selected for investigation over others, and the UEC has not shared the number and nature of complaints filed at the Union or regional levels. In some areas, the observers even noted that citizens showed reluctance to file complaints.

Of particular concern is Rakhine State, where the report says a “pre-election security crackdown” has targeted Muslim communities. Mr Rawski said multiple sources have informed the Carter Center of surprise household searches in certain Muslim villages, conducted by police and border guard police who confiscated machetes and farm tools, and checked phones for international SIM cards.

Another area of concern is cancelled voting, with the UEC failing to explain the criteria used to determine which areas are too dangerous to hold an election. On October 13, the commission announced voting would be cancelled in almost 600 village-tracts across Bago Region and Kachin, Kayin, Mon and Shan states, including five entire townships in Shan. Two weeks later, voting was cancelled in two more townships in Shan State, as well as 45 village tracts and five wards across two others.

Though these cancellations appear to be in areas with legitimate security problems derived from ethnic conflict, the Carter Center said the lack of transparency “has raised suspicions in some of the affected areas and in the national media”.

The UEC could not be reached for comment yesterday as it was a public holiday.

As a recommendation to the government, the Carter Center called for the release of two activists arrested for posting satirical material on Facebook.