By Zin Linn
Executive Director of Asian Networks for Free Elections (ANFREL) Somsri Hananuntasuk said she was compulsorily deported by the Burma’s immigration authorities from Rangoon to Bangkok on 20 March nighttime and her assistants, Rangsima Suttipongkiat and Tadzrul Adha, faced the same fate a day later, according to the Bangkok Post columnist Achara Ashayagachat.
The two ANFREL staff were also asked to return to Bangkok on March 21 night. Ms Somsri, a veteran poll watcher, was in fact deported from Burma after staying in the country for six days.
ANFREL is an election observation organization tasked with carrying out election watch missions in Asian countries. It also fulfills regional post-election follow-up meeting engaging members, relevant election commissions and other stakeholders. In addition, it gives confidence to respective governments to sponsor transparent and credible elections in their countries.
According to Ms Somsri, she sent official correspondence to Burma’s Union Election Commission through the Yangon Election Commission ahead of her trip to Burma. The letter asks for permission to watch over the 1st April by-elections. But, there was no response and finally she made up her mind going into the country on tourist visa to put forward the application letter personally.
The ANFREL team led by Ms Somsri had landed Burma since March 15 to make sure if UEC would grant official approval for independent observers during the April 1 by-elections. Eventually, the three members of the ANFREL were given notice that they were travelling by the wrong visa.
After deporting three members of the ANFREL, Burmese government affirmed to give permission for two poll observers each from the United States, the European Union, Japan, China, South Korea, the United Nations as well as ASEAN members. Every country will also be allowed three journalists to cover the elections news.
Today, the Bangkok-based Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) noted that while it is a step in the right direction, Burma’s decision to allow international observers comes too late, and with too many restrictions.
In its today (22 March) press release, ANFREL says, “It is regrettable therefore that the invitations, which included the United States, the European Union, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), come less than two weeks before election day. As Myanmar authorities know, an effective election observation mission requires significantly more time for planning and preparation. Unfortunately, even if observers were to arrive today, they would have already missed more than three quarters of the campaign. ASEAN says that their observers have been asked to arrive only three days before the election.”
Moreover, the statement continues: “Also, since the invitations restrict governments to only two observers, or five for ASEAN, countries are unable to assemble the team that is required for a thorough and coordinated assessment. With by-elections in 48 constituencies across the country, effective election observation demands the well coordinated effort of a professional election observation team. We do not yet know the extent to which those invited to observe will be given free and open access to the electoral process.”
ANFREL also underscored the situation that Burma has not invited trained international civil society observers so far, to observe and provide an objective 3rd party perspective. In addition, it is too late for any observation mission that meets international standards, the Asian Election Watchdog said.
ANFREL urges the government of Myanmar (Burma) to allow full access for those observers it has invited as well as for local observer groups.
“The country’s recent progress on democratic reforms has been very encouraging, but much remains to be done,” Ms. Somsri Hananuntasuk said. “If the government of Myanmar wishes to hold truly free and fair elections as it claims, it must accept international standards which include independent election observation.”
In reality, the invitations for international poll observers came forward too late and with limitations. It looks like insincere since the regime has a serious wish for lifting of sanctions imposed by the US and the EU. As the Burmese government allowed a small number of vote observers within a short time, the poll monitoring efforts are seen as a window-dressing.