Int’l monitors laud ‘well-organized’ conduct of Myanmar polls

Tension over poll results eases as military hails impending NLD victory

YANGON (MindaNews / 12 Nov) – While pointing to incidents of irregularities, Asian and European monitors generally gave a thumbs up for the “well-organized” conduct of Sunday’s general elections in Myanmar.

The monitors principally cited marked improvements in the way the elections were held in 2010, when a military junta ruled the country prior to the current nominally civilian government.

“The 2015 general elections are a historic juncture in the democratic transition of Myanmar. The poll was well-organized and voters had a real choice between different candidates,” Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, Chief Observer of the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM), said in a press conference on Tuesday.

“The country has come a long way to holding genuine and free elections,” added Lambsdorff, comparing Sunday’s exercise to that in 2010.

In the current elections, around 90 parties competed for seats in the national and regional parliaments whereas in 2010, only around 40 did, minus major parties like the National League for Democracy (NLD) which won a majority in 1990 but was not allowed by the military to form the government.

EU parliament member Ana Gomes said she was “impressed by the calm and peaceful atmosphere” throughout the balloting from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“We welcome the fact that a high number of voters, especially young people, turn out to vote,” Gomes added.

The non-government Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) said that through Sunday’s polls, the people of Myanmar “have sent the world a message that (they) are ready and willing to work towards a more democratic future.”

“Democratization is a process and the 2015 elections will provide a solid foundation for that process,” the ANFREL said in a statement on Tuesday.

An estimated 80 percent of some 30 million voters trooped to more than 40,000 polling stations on Nov. 8 in the country’s first election in 25 years under increased democratic circumstances.

Up for grabs were 498 of 664 seats in the bicameral national legislature, 644 of 860 seats in regional and state parliaments, and 29 Ethnic Affairs Ministers in states and regions with substantial ethnic minorities.

No incident of violence was reported during the day of the elections.

ANFREL lauded the Union Election Commission (UEC) “for its management of the election in what was admittedly an often difficult environment.”

“The efforts of polling station staff to create an environment conducive to free and fair election is worth noting. Given the decades since the last competitive national elections, the UEC generally performed admirably to manage the process,” ANFREL said.

“While important parts of the election process remain, the pre-election and Election Day give Myanmar a good chance for credible elections and a more democratic future,” said ANFREL chair and head of mission Damaso Magbual, a member of the council of the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel).

Three days after the elections, tension grips the country as people still awaited the full official results from the UEC. But this has eased Wednesday after the military has congratulated the NLD for leading the electoral race.

The statement from the military, called Tatmadaw, was posted on the official Facebook account of its media portal, Myawady.

As of 11 p.m. Wednesday, 648 of 1,171 seats contested throughout the country were officially declared by the UEC. Of these, 223 were for Pyithu Hluttaw (Lower House) seats, 83 for Amyotha Hluttaw (Upper House), and 342 for state and regional parliaments.

A rundown of the official results compiled by Yangon-based Myanmar Times showed the NLD capturing most of the seats: 179 in the Lower House, 77 in the Upper House, and 280 in the state and regional parliaments.

Its main rival, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), had a poor showing, so far. It only captured 17 seats in the Lower House, four in the Upper House, and 30 in state and regional parliaments.

Magbual said the UEC must be given the benefit of the doubt at this time given that it has to work with a challenging communications infrastructure.

But Magbual counselled the UEC to make public the results as soon as it can or explain why these are not yet available to dispel suspicions of manipulations.

“By immediately posting all original results at sub-commission offices and online, and by releasing detailed polling station-level lists of results, the UEC can avoid unnecessary suspicion or distrust in the counting process,” Magbual stressed.

He told political parties to remain vigilant and to optimize the use of their respective poll watchdogs at every step of the vote aggregation process.

On Tuesday, the NLD complained about the slow pace in the release of official results, hinting this could have been done deliberately.

Based on its monitoring of poll station results, the party, which is led by Burmese democracy icon and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has announced that it has captured 406 of the 664 seats in both the Lower and Upper Houses which together makes up the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw or Union Parliament.

The Union Parliament elects the next president who, in turn, will be selected from three nominees, each coming from the Lower House, Upper House, and the combined military bloc in both Houses.

About 333 votes will comprise the simple majority in the Union Parliament.

“The results process is still underway. This is a critical part of the process and it will be important to maintain a high level of transparency and integrity throughout,” Lambsdorff stressed.

According to ANFREL, the “most significant shortcoming” of Sunday’s political exercise was that a “large number of potential voters… were excluded or unable to participate in the process.”

It was mainly referring to the Muslims (called Rohingyas) in Rakhine State, towards the border with Bangladesh.

“The UEC has told us the issue with the Rohingyas is about citizenship,” Magbual explained.

“In the spirit of democratic inclusiveness and long term peace in the country, steps can and should be taken to include all the people of Myanmar, no matter their race or religion or where they happen to live…,” ANFREL pointed out.

Lambsdorff said the Rohingya question “is an issue for Myanmar to address, far beyond the elections.”

“It is a social issue that is just reflected in the context of the elections,” he added.

Both the EU observation mission and the ANFREL pointed to potential fraud in the voting in military barracks for soldiers and police to which monitors were barred.

The EU observation mission lamented that “despite prior assurances,” its monitors were not given access to the advance voting exercise in military camps.

Advance voting has been allowed, especially for military and police who may not be able to come to their designated polling centers on Election Day because of a mandated duty to perform.

“… The special privileges enjoyed by these institutions create opportunities for fraud and electoral misconduct…,” ANFREL notes.

During Sunday’s polls, journalists and the elderly were also given advance voting privilege.

In the past, advance votes were used as instrument to tilt the balance of the balloting results in favour of the ruling party, Magbual said. (Ryan D. Rosauro / MindaNews contributor)