Burma – Free and Fair Elections?

The people of Burma will go the polls on November 8, 2015. Karen News talked to a wide range of people to get their views on the election and what they hoped it would deliver.

Many voters In Burma remain skeptical that the elections will be free and fair. With the 25% reserved for the military in the Parliament, people are worried that the political processes and the existing structures set up and under the control of the current government will deliver power to the military.

U Tha Aung, from the Education Foundation in Hpa-an said voters want a free and fair election, but are worried.

“People are talking about a free fair [election]. We cannot do anything regarding the fair part. It depends on the [election] commission. I want everyone to have a chance to vote freely [without any obstacles] as a group or individual in this election. We do not want to be pressured, threatened or persuaded to vote.”

U Kyaw Win Maung, the chairperson of the Karen State Election Commission Sub-group insisted that the election processes being put in place will ensure the election results can be trusted.

“To be a free and fair election like the president [Thein Sein] said, the Election Commission, in order to fulfill our obligation, has established down to the local level a process. There are rules and regulations that our election commission members must follow and we have to give education regarding the election. Orders and instructions are also given when it is needed. We also have a plan that we will give training [capacity building] to the local level of the election commission. We are also training those who have to manage and monitor the polls in order for it to be a free and fair election.”

Mahn Aung Phyi Soe from the Plao Swaw Democratic Party (PSDP) said that too many mistakes have been made and that many people have had their names removed form the electoral rolls.

“Whether we will have free and fair election in 2015 – there are many mistakes like wrong voter lists, some [eligible] people do not have their name on the voter lists and half of the voters are not on the list. Many mistakes happened in 2010. What I want to know is why there are many mistakes happening? We are not accusing, but it happened. For example, like having a person who is already dead on the voter lists – they ask another person to vote by using the name of the dead person. This is what happened in 2010. We also worry that this kind of thing will happen in the upcoming election. They are trying to solve the problem of wrong voter lists. But it is not easy to solve it in nationwide.”

Sa Shine, a Civil Society Organization (CSO) worker said that despite the Election Commissions statements about the elections being fair too many mistakes have already being made.

“Even though the UEC are saying that the election will be a free and fair election, from the beginning there are many mistakes with the voter lists – how can we measure that we [have] a free and fair election? This is the question that we have to ask. As the Union Election Commission has obligation toward a free and fair election the involvements of CSOs are very important.”

U Kyaw Win Maung, the Karen State Election Commission Sub-group Chairperson, said it had warned voters to go and make sure they are registered and eligible to vote.

“Every level of the election commission has urged civilians to go and check the voter-lists when it was announced and as well as around 20 civil society organizations in Karen State encouraged civilians as much as they can to check the voter list in their respective township of operation. We also distributed letters in ethnic languages that tell civilians to check the voter list.”

U Tha Aung from the Education Foundation in Hpa-an said he wants citizens to be motivated and to use their vote wisely.

“I want civilians to be interested in the election. Most of the civilians do not understand about the election. The CSOs need to explain to the civilians why the election is important for our country and for them. It is not like we are campaigning for vote for a party that we like, but we try to explain to them to vote freely and to be interested in the election.”

U Kyaw Win Maung, Chairperson of Karen State Election Commission Sub-group said people in Burma lack voting experience.

“People have less interest in this coming election because our country has less experience about election. People today [young people] only have experience of voting in 2010 election. We have been practising democracy for only for a few years. People do not understand the meaning of democracy or their role in democracy and how important their votes are. I think that is why they do not go and check the voter lists to see if their names are included or not since they have less awareness of how important it is to be able to vote.”

Sa Shine, the CSO worker said the voting process was restrictive and people needed education on how to vote in a democracy.

“There is a question if the elections will be held in conflict areas. There are many parts that are unclear and we have to resolve it. For example, the CSOs cannot go and give voter education in the Papun area. It should not be like this. The government must open the way for civilians to be able to vote easily if they want the election to be free and fair.”

U Kyaw Win Maung, Chairperson, Karen State Election Commission Sub-group said that the 2015 elections should be a lot easier for people to take part than in the 2010 national vote.

“In 2010, there were many villages in Karen State that the election could not take place. But in 2015 [upcoming election], there is potential that the election will be wider than before. We could not hold the election in some places because of the security – it will not be a free and fair election if the security is not good.”

U Tha Aung of the Education Foundation based in Hpa-an said not having an identity card would disadvantage people.

“There are two parts. One part is ethnic people. Our ethnic people fled to other countries because of the civil war. Now they have come back. The immigration department of Burma has made identity cards for some people who coming back, but not for everyone. Some people do come and make it [identity], some people do not know how to make it… many other reasons. There are many ethnic people who do not have identity cards and disadvantages them. The government needs to prioritize it and make identity cards for people before the election. It is a disadvantage that we have our names on the voter list, but we do not have the chance to vote because we do not have identity cards.”

Mahn Aung Phyi Soe from the Plao Swaw Democratic Party worries that restrictive legislation has already cost many people their vote.

“Some people are not allowed to vote because of article 17/1 [link to unlawful association]. Why do not they [the government] abolish the article 17/1? You can allow them [people who are accused of article 17/1] even you do not want to abolish article 17/1. They do not do it. We do not know what will happen when it gets close to the election. When we were young, a whole village was burnt down because they [the government people] were not satisfied with the result of the election, or treating the whole village to [free] pork curry before the election. These kind of unethical campaign for election happened. We cannot say these kinds of things will happen or not happen. I would rate it 50, 50 if the election will be a free, fair and transparent.”

U Tha Aung from the Education Foundation in Hpa-an said he would like to see ethnic people being representative at parliament by ethnic candidates.

“I want the people from our region [from Karen state], Burmese or Mon or Karen, who know about Karen State, to be the chief minister of Karen State. Most people [in Karen State] are Karen, so most of the Member of Parliament should be Karen. But most of the Member of Parliament in the Union level [Pyitaungsu Hluttaw] are Burmese – they might have ethnic MP’s in proportion. It would better if the candidates are the local [native] people. There is no benefit for our state if people from other areas come and run for election in the [Karen state] government.”

Saw Kyaw Than, a Hpa-an based voter said that he did not expect to see too many political changes.

“We are obliged to vote as civilians. After the 2015 election, there will not be a lot of changes from the 2010 election regarding the administration [of the government]. It is very difficult to change a system right away but we are hoping for a government system that is more democratic. It would be great if we have a more comprehensive voter list so that everyone can vote as they want and they can vote for the party that they want.”

Sa Shine, the CSO worker said that ethnic people had to use their vote wisely and should put aside preferences based on ethnicity and instead vote for the best candidate.

“It is not always right that we are voting for a Karen party because we are Karen. The candidate is more important than the party. It depends on how much the candidates work for Karen State, for Karen people and for all other ethnic people. How can the candidates bring about the changes that we want? If we have a candidate like this, I will vote for that kind of candidate.”

Saw Kyaw Than a Hpa-an based voter said he will cast his vote for the candidate who will work for the community and not self-interest.

“I am not obsessed by a person or a party. I will vote for a suitable person who can work for our state, our people and our country. I want a person who can lead our state and our country to a better place according to the democratic system. The important thing is that I do not want leaders who just take on the position; I want a leader who takes responsibility. This is our true heart felt wish.”

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