Why Congress is concerned about the 2015 election
More than 40 members of the United States Congress recently sent a letter to President Obama demanding that he pressure President U Thein Sein to ensure the democratic reforms in Myanmar continue. In the letter, they asked him to pass on the message that U Thein Sein should stop breaching human rights and ensure next year’s election is free and fair if he wants better ties with the US.
At the same time, I have read that officials from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) have visited Yangon and given training on digitising voter lists for the election.
I will explain why the US government considers Myanmar’s 2015 election to be so important and what the Union Election Commission is doing.
The importance attached to the election by the US government and Congress is clear from the fact this letter was sent more than one year prior to being held. If the 2015 election is free and fair, and a president and government elected by the people take office and serve their term, then we can say that Myanmar has taken a big step on the path to democracy.
However, holding a free and fair election is not simple in Myanmar. The election laws and bylaws were enacted by the former military government and some sections have been amended by the current parliament. Moreover, the Election Commission is headed by a former military officer who is very close to the president, while other levels of the commission are also headed by former military officers.
There are several other factors that could impact on the election. Myanmar does not have accurate electoral rolls and it is unclear whether international observers will be allowed to monitor the vote. Finally, we don’t even know exactly which electoral system will be used, at least in the upper house.
The training that the IFES is conducting in Yangon focuses on digitising rolls. Twenty staff from 10 townships are taking part, so you can imagine how much training will be needed to ensure accurate rolls in all 330 townships.
Digitising rolls is one thing, but ensuring those rolls are accurate is another. In the 2010 election, the commission did not collect voters’ lists properly. In some areas, there was cheating and manipulation. To prevent this happening again, voter lists need to be compiled accurately and it is essential that political parties and eligible voters can easily check they are on the rolls. This needs to happen as soon as possible, so there is time to rectify any problems.
Another important point is that all people who have the right to vote should be able to do so. If people need to show their Citizenship Scrutiny Card at the ballot station, then steps should be taken to ensure all people have these cards. There should at least be another way to vote for those who do not have a card but are eligible to vote.
According to figures issued by the Ministry of Immigration, the ministry has issued nearly 4 million identity cards under the six phases of the Moe Pwint project, which began in July 2011.
That means about 4 million people did not have ID cards in the 2010 election and so were unable to vote. It’s impossible to say how many people still lack CSCs but they should not be stopped from voting next year.
Voter education also needs to be improved, and people should have access to information on parties and candidates earlier. In 2010, many voters didn’t know the candidates in their constituency, even after reading their names at the ballot station.
The last important point is the electoral system. While Thura U Shwe Mann has rejected proportional representation in the lower house, it could still be introduced in the upper house. This could reduce the prospects for a free and fair election.
Given these issues, it is understandable that the US Congress has expressed concerns about the election and Myanmar’s transition to democracy. To address these concerns, political parties and the public should begin preparing now, and urge the commission and the government to take the necessary steps to ensure the election is free and fair.
Translation by Thiri Min Htun
Source by: http://www.mmtimes.com