Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Voter list issues continue for at least another day

Myanmar's first final, nationwide voter list was slated to go on public display yesterday, but after months of outraged political parties and voters calling election officials to task, most will have to wait at least another day to see the final roll.

An election official tallies advance votes in Thanlyin township, Yangon yesterday.( Aung Myin Ye Zaw/The Myanmar Times)An election official tallies advance votes in Thanlyin township, Yangon yesterday.( Aung Myin Ye Zaw/The Myanmar Times)

The Union Election Commission had initially planned on publicly posting the final list on November 2. The schedule was revised and extended to a last-minute, staggered release that would start at the local election office and progress to the township, state and Union level, where it would be combined and cross-checked. The relevant lists were also supposed to be posted at each polling station on November 6 and 7.

Widespread voter list omissions, redundancies and inaccurate data plaguing the last two lists have proven a contentious and central obstacle in the coming election.

While the final, corrected renditions were supposed to start rolling out yesterday, Myanmar Times reporters posted around the country found varying degrees to which local offices succeeded in meeting the deadline.

Thanlyin township, Yangon Region

In Thanlyin township, the final voter lists were not ready for display. The commission officials said they lacked “sufficient resources” to post copies of the crucial spreadsheet, which will determine who is eligible to cast a ballot.

“We have only one photocopying machine in our township and there are about 180,000 eligible voters here,” said U Chit Nyunt, the chair of the township election sub-commission.

He offered no plan or timeline for displaying the township lists. “We can’t do this with current resources,” he said.

However, U Chit Nyunt added that voters can come and verify their names were included on the internal office lists at either the ward or township level.

“They can check their names or get voting tickets,” he said.

Overseas advance voters sending in ballots to Thanlyin number around 300, according the township election staff. However, the ink and paper votes have not arrived yet. About 600 military personnel from Thanlyin have also already cast their ballots.

In Yangon, previous issues with the list included hundreds of thousands of domestic migrant workers as well as squatters who were not enumerated on the list, especially in the industrial outskirts of Hlaing Tharyar.

Mandalay, Mandalay Region

Due to a delay in gathering individual township lists, the Mandalay Region commission office said yesterday that it will be at least one more day before the final display could be posted.

“We need to wait for data from township and quarter levels,” said U Kyaw Kyaw Soe, the deputy director of the Mandalay Region election commission. “Some are not ready yet.”

He added that the list “may” come out tomorrow but did not explain what caused some townships to remain unprepared just six days before the election. He also declined to specify how many township lists are still being compiled or amended.

In townships that did make the lists available for public viewing yesterday, The Myanmar Times saw several voters checking their names.

Mandalay has had continued problems with voter list displays. After the second display in early October, more than 70,000 people in the region requested to be added, causing a backlog of paperwork. Additionally, 15,000 names were removed after they were found to be deceased.

The errors in both iterations of the list led senior officials from the National League for Democracy to lash out at the UEC.

“It is quite clear that they are not a responsible organisation,” said party patron U Tin Oo.

Hinthada township, Ayeyarwady Region

Decked out in red flags seemingly in support of the largest opposition party, Hinthada township nevertheless underwhelmed the National League for Democracy as the election commission office did not have a list ready to share with all parties.

U Khin Maung Yi, an NLD candidate in the constituency, said he requested a copy of the finalised voter list for the day it went on display.

“But they said it would be difficult to give by that time and would provide the list tomorrow,” he said.

The election commission faced a time crunch and was overwhelmed with juggling several different tasks, according to Hinthada UEC township sub-commission secretary U Zaw Moe Aung. “We had a meeting with the UEC and we’re also busy with advance votes,” he said.

The region has claimed it encountered challenges dealing with encrypted voter list software especially commissioned for the UEC by the International Federation for Electoral Systems. However, unlike other sub-commissions in Ayeyarwady, Hinthada stuck with the system rather than switching to Excel – a changeover that had been blanket approved for the region, seemingly to assuage the public over rampant errors. Some analysts have claimed the software served as a convenient scapegoat, while incorrect administrative records and incompetency were more at fault.

The sub-commission has recorded the names of 285 advanced voters. No overseas votes were yet cast for Hinthada township.

The ballot box itself is a Tupperware container taped along its edges with a slit in the top and tagged with two yellow zip ties bearing unique identification numbers.

Concerns over the welfare of advance-vote ballot boxes led U Zaw Moe Aung to announce at yesterday’s meeting that for some rural villages with commission offices in bad condition, the containers would be kept at the commission chair’s home – which led NLD candidate U Aung Ko Ko to raise fears of voting fraud.

However, U Zaw Moe Aung claimed that security measures are adequate.

He also said yesterday that if voters’ names were not on the list on November 8, according to the law they would not be able to vote.

His interpretation was not universally accepted, however. The Hinthada North Garden ward sub-commission office suggested that locals could vote if they showed ID on election day.

Though the UEC has issued election-day guidelines, there is still room for interpretation and individual practices around the election at the local level, officials suggested.