Two days ahead of Burma’s historic general election—billed as the country’s freest and fairest in 25 years, and sure to be a fierce competition—increased emphasis has been placed on upping the security of voters and streamlining the electoral process at polling stations. Police Col. Win Bo, deputy head of the Rangoon Division Police Force, recently spoke with The Irrawaddy about security measures planned for Burma’s biggest city, as the country prepares to head to the polls on Sunday.
How do the Myanmar Police Force and security committees intend to provide security in Rangoon on election day?
It is not only the police who are responsible for [providing] election security. Security committees that have been formed by different organizations—such as local authorities, the Red Cross and fire brigades—also hold some of the responsibility. There are security committees at different levels, from the central level to the ward/village level. Division-level security committees are headed by ministers [from the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Immigration], and administrators [from the General Administration Department] and police chiefs [from the MPF] act as secretaries at district-level security committees. Security will be provided through these committees.
We’ve specified four periods for providing security—the pre-election period, campaign season, election day and post-election period. And we’ve also determined five lines or levels of security. The first is the polling precinct, where security will be provided by special election police; each polling station will have a special election policeman. For the second, heads of certain police stations will be placed in areas where they can easily supervise the security situation at polling stations. The third line is the township level, the fourth is the district level and the fifth is the division level.
How many policemen, including special election policemen, will be deployed for the purposes of election security in Rangoon?
We’ll deploy more than 3,000 policemen, which is over half of our [Rangoon Division’s] police force. Regarding the special election police, we’ll deploy one at each of the 5,495 polling stations in Yangon Division.
Do you think that having only one special election policeman per polling station will be enough, should a problem arise?
Even though special election police will be alone [at their polling stations], they will be accompanied by security committees, administrators, community elders, firefighters and so on, so it will be enough.
What measures have been taken to guard against the possible threat of explosive devices planted to go off on election day, and to handle potential physical confrontations?
Prior to the day of the election, we’ll sweep polling precincts to see if we can detect any bombs. Then security committees will keep watch over the station until the polling station officers arrive. Polling station officers are the most responsible; even the special election police can’t enter polling stations without the approval of the polling station officers.
As for disputes, both party agents and observers will be at the polling stations, and they’ll be able to keep an eye on each other. The polling station officer is charged with settling disputes if any arise. If he isn’t able to do this, dispute settlement committees formed by the Union Election Commission [UEC] will have to intervene. And if these committees aren’t able to settle the dispute and there are violations of the law that pertain to the election, the police station officer will call the police, who will then take action in accordance with the law.
Usually, law enforcement uses color-coded alerts to signal the intensity of a security situation. What color will be used for the election?
We have four colors to indicate security levels. Now, we’re using orange, which is the highest level, because this is the most crucial period [of the election cycle].
Have preparations been made for unexpected threats? What are your concerns?
We’re expecting a peaceful election day, but we also have to expect the worst, and so we’ve made preparations for this.
Have you been responsible for providing security in previous elections? What sorts of problems have you typically encountered?
The period from 2010 to 2012 was a transition period during which time the military government transferred power, so we were less concerned. But the current government has relaxed regulations as well as security, and things are more open now. [But] also, [some people] tend to make mountains out of molehills nowadays. We have to take actions in accordance with the law. I think that the coming election is more important [than previous ones] and also more interesting.
Have the special election police been trained in accordance with the training methods provided by the European Union?
The EU’s training is only aimed at the [regular Myanmar] Police Force [MPF]. But we have taught the special election police how to engage peacefully with people. We’ve also developed a code of conduct for them. There will be over 40,000 special election police across the country. … We’ve provided them with uniforms. They have only undergone 10 days of intensive training.