ISSN 2330-717X

Burma By-Elections May Not Help Lift Sanctions – OpEd

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By Zin Linn

The April 1 by-election is speedily approaching. As the election date draws nearer, the irregularities made by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) are increasing day after day. In many rural areas, the local administrative committee members who were appointed by the ruling party have helped the USDA candidates’ election campaigns by using their administrative power.

They pressure the voters in rural areas to cast the vote for the USDP if the voters do not want to be removed from their current land. In some constituencies, they persuade the voters by borrowing money without interest so as to buy their votes.

In several constituencies, the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi has complained of massive inaccuracy in official voter-lists, which lost hundreds of names and put the same name repeatedly. The worst is that the authorities put the names of dead people in the lists. Up until now, voter-lists have been not come out in many rural villages and the respective local poll commissions cannot provide information for the eligible voters.

Besides, the ruling political party’s stooges smashed up the NLD campaign posters in the capital Naypyitaw and attacked the NLD supporters by using catapults. Although such crimes were informed to the respective police or authorities, no action was taken against the wrongdoers so far.

Although the President, the lower house chairman and the chairman of the Union Election Commission (UEC) have repeatedly said to carry out a free and fair elections, there are a lot of flaws on the ground. Most election irregularities were evidently done by the ruling USDP members as the government officials support the dishonest canvassing movements. Such defects could lead to unnecessary squabbles among the average people.

The UEC under the guideline of the ruling party has postponed election in three constituencies in Kachin region for the April 1 by-election due to security concerns as said by the regime. State television broadcast a declaration on 23 March by the Union Election Commission that elections in three constituencies – Mo-gaung, Ba-maw and Pha-kant constituencies – in Kachin state in northern Burma would not be held and postponed because security surroundings are not positive to launch free and fair polls.

According to Associated Press (March 23), State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing in Washington, “We have had concerns about the violence in Kachin (state). We are seeking to understand what the Burmese intentions are so that the people of Kachin are not disenfranchised.”

The postponement of voting in Mogaung, Phakant and Bamaw is a blow to the Kachin autonomy movement because the former leader of the Kachin Independence Organization, Tu Ja, is running from Mogaung constituency as an independent candidate.

NLD spokesman and in-charge of Election Campaign Committee Nyan Win told Radio Free Asia (Burmese Service) that the authorities reasoned the security matter but he did not know much about it. But, when he was there in February the situation was normal and he didn’t see any security threat. Suu Kyi also made her Kachin campaigning trip in Myit-kyi-na, Mo-gaung and Ba-maw last month.

However, during an interview with the Voice of America (Burmese Service) 25 March, the KIO’s Brigadier General Gwan Maw said the government’s reason of security to postpone polls in three constituencies was not consistent with the real situation in the areas where fighting were not taken place. Besides, KIO has no intention of damaging the election process which it also supports.

In addition, the Executive Director of Asian Networks for Free Elections (ANFREL) Somsri Hananuntasuk said she and two of her assistants, Rangsima Suttipongkiat and Tadzrul Adha, were forcibly deported by Burma’s immigration authorities from Rangoon to Bangkok on March 20 and 21 respectively.

ANFREL highlight the weaknesses in Burma’s approaching by-election saying that Burma has not invited trained international civil society observers so far, to observe and provide an objective 3rd party perspective. Furthermore, it is too late for any observation mission that meets international standards, the Asian Election Watchdog said in its March 22 Press Release.

Meanwhile, the 88-Generation student group has been organizing an election-monitoring network to watch the by-election process on April 1. The 88-Generation student leader Mee Mee told the Mizzima News on 23 March that the group’s election watching would observe the election campaign, the voting, the Election Commission branch offices and the vote counting process. It will also document reports by the news media of election complaints and irregularities.

Some analysts inside the country concern about the vote counting procedure which seems to be under control of the ruling party’s agents. If there were the same vote rigging occurrences similar to 7 November 2010 polls, the supporters of the opposition NLD may not recognize the ballot results and protests may happen against the irregularities made by the government’s USDP.

Unless the government can manage to cope with the visible flaws in this poll process, the whole set of its reform plan will have to face severe damage in the near future. Then it will also become a barricade to lift the Western sanctions.

Asian Correspondent

Asian Correspondent is an English-language liberal news, blogs and commentary online newspaper serving all of the Asia-Pacific region. The website covers asian business, politics, technology, the environment, education, new media and Asia society issues.

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