By Mark Chit and Thomas Toe
An opposition candidate in next week’s by-elections has welcomed the presence of international election monitors but questioned how effectively they could operate in the short time they have been given to work in the country.
U Ohn Kyaing, a National League for Democracy candidate in Mandalay’s Maharaungmyae constituency, said the deportation last week of an independent monitor from Bangkok-based Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) for alleged visa violations was a bad sign.
“We are really happy and welcome the invitation of local and international observers, but the deportation … should not have happened,” he said.
Somsri Hananuntasuk, executive director of ANFREL, said she was asked to leave the country on March 20 after authorities said she had violated the terms of her tourist visa for seeking approval to remain in the country as an election observer.
U Ohn Kyaing said sufficient time must be allowed for monitors to prepare, and that international observers would only be given three days ahead of the April 1 polls – a restriction that would limit the scope of their monitoring.
“International observers will be able to analyze and give a good report if they can review more of the processes of the election. I don’t think these observers will be able to monitor all the polling stations across the country.”
In a statement on March 22, ANFREL said that while allowing monitors into the country was a step in the right direction, the decision might have come too late and with too many conditions.
An effective election observation mission requires significantly more time for planning and preparation, the statement said, adding that even if monitors had arrived today, they would have already missed three quarters of the election.
However, U Than Tun, the Union Solidarity and Development Party candidate in Maharaungmyae township, said he was confident that monitors would be able to carry out their work effectively, as the most important issue was the casting and counting of votes.
“The government, [political parties] and the public will act freely and fairly on this by-election, as it will reflect on the country’s reforms and will attract great attention from the international community,” he said.
U Ko Ni, a Yangon-based lawyer, said the fairness of the election would also depend on the skill of local election commission officials.
“Besides international observers, well-trained people from different political parties will also be monitoring the polls,” he said.
U Ko Ni added that recent claims of irregularities in the voter lists could likely be influenced by experiences during the 2010 national elections, and that the principal problem now was to ensure that eligible voters were not denied the right to cast their ballot.