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Can Burma’s EC Oversee April 1 By-Elections To Be Free And Fair? – OpEd


By Zin Linn

Aung San Suu Kyi officially registered her opposition party on 23 November 2011. After Suu Kyi’s party submitted its application to Union Election Commission (UEC), Lower House Speaker Thura Shwe Mann welcomed the NLD’s return to parliament politics, after it was dissolved in May 2010 for boycotting the 7 November 2010 elections. Shwe Mann also said he welcomes Aung San Suu Kyi on behalf of the People’s Parliament as she has planned competing in by-elections.

The NLD was given the green light from authorities in last November to re-enter mainstream politics, paving the way for the Nobel laureate to run for a seat in the existing parliament. Upper house speaker Khin Aung Myint, who also met Suu Kyi on 23 November 2011, described her move as constructive.

The chairman of Burma’s Union Election Commission (UEC), Tin Aye, has promised pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi that he will make sure the forthcoming by-elections are free and fair, and that the government was committed to work together with the opposition for the interests of the country.

The military-dominated Thein Sein government took office after the November 7, 2010 elections which were condemned by the West as a vote rigging parade. As a face-saving plan, President Thein Sein government has made a number of concessions which looks as if it was moving toward a visible change.

For instance, key opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was freed from detention a week after 2010 election. There were even meetings between Suu Kyi and the liaison messenger of the new government. On August 19-2011, President Thein Sein met Aung San Suu Kyi for the first in the highest level exchange of opinion between the Nobel laureate and the authorities since her release from house arrest.

Last November, while Suu Kyi was visiting Naypyitaw for party registration process, the president, the lower house speaker and UEC chairman Tin Aye, met and agreed that the forthcoming by-elections would be free and fair even if the ruling party faced a defeat.

Shwe Mann, as acting chairman of the ruling USDP, has warned his party members to abide by the law in order to open the by-elections to be indisputable. During a meeting in January, he told his party members not to go against party’s rules and regulations as well as to keep away from mistreating upon other citizens.

Although it boycotted in last November polls, the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi is running for parliamentary seats through these by-elections.

As by-elections are nearer, political parties’ campaigning for parliamentary seats is at top gear. However, there is mistrust in the public whether the vote will be free and fair.

According to AFP News, Aung San Suu Kyi expressed her concerns on Thursday that dead people were appearing on voter rolls in Burma ahead of upcoming by-elections, speaking in a meeting in Rangoon with Canada’s foreign minister John Baird.

“A lot of dead people seem to be prepared to vote on the first of April. We can’t have that, can we? And other things like that,” the pro-democracy leader told Canadian FM, according to a Canadian pool media report issued in Ottawa.

Suu Kyi said she has asked the election commission “to do something about this,” vowing also that her party “would complain loud and long” for remedies.

Unbelievably, the past 7 November 2010 election, won by the military-backed political proxies, was flawed by widespread complaints of vote-rigging and the exclusion of the NLD led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released from house arrest shortly after the polls.

If the Thein Sein government has the aptitude and readiness to follow the political reform path, it must keep its promise of managing the by-elections in a free and fair manner.

Suu Kyi called on the international community to watch closely how the elections keep going. Furthermore, how the election commission handles complaints of electoral irregularities before shaping their policy toward Burma.

Suu Kyi’s NLD party is challenging candidates for all 48 seats in the April 1 by-elections. But, former political prisoner Saw Hlaing, a member of parliament in 1990 election and an NLD candidate for one constituency in Sagaing Division was rejected by the local commission reasoning on citizenship problem. It is an unfair rejection since he was an elected-representative in the 1990 general elections.

In a press briefing after a meeting with Canadian Foreign Minister at her residence in Rangoon, Suu Kyi said her party had uncovered many irregularities in the voter lists in several areas. The respective party-candidates will have to apply to the Elections Commission to address these issues, according to NLD’s campaign manager and spokesman Nyan Win.

The serious complaints showed that many people, who live in respective constituencies, were not appeared in the voter-list and names of deceased people were put there, Suu Kyi said. Then she urged the election commission to take action promptly on such an improper hindrance.

It is really a very important issue handled by the UEC since the international community closely watches the incoming by-elections as a benchmark for lifting of sanctions.

As Election Day is approaching, the ruling party’s cases of threatening voters and abusing administrative power are increasing to a greater extent. It seems UEC Chairman Tin Aye has not enough power to supervise the April 1 by-elections to be a free and fair voting.

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Democratic Voice of Burma

The Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) is a non-profit Burmese media organization committed to responsible journalism.

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