THARRAWADDY, Pegu Division — The local election subcommission in Pegu Division’s Tharrawaddy Township has sought and received funding from lawmakers of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), a donation that an opposition party member has criticized as potentially compromising the electoral body’s impartiality.
Myint Lwin, chairman of the township election subcommission, told The Irrawaddy that he had decided to ask for funding from the USDP after determining that, at just 100,000 kyats (US$83), the Union Election Commission (UEC) allocation was not sufficient for electoral awareness activities including publically displaying eligible voter lists throughout the township.
“Village election subcommissions couldn’t afford to buy boards to display the preliminary voter lists. We can’t just hang [voter lists] on ropes in the rain. That’s why we consulted with township development support committees and asked for donations,” he said.
The election subcommission received 128 boards—two each for 64 village tracts—from the USDP, he said.
“There is no support from the government for township and village election subcommissions. Some [subcommission members] from rural areas have to cross rivers or creeks to attend [election-related] meetings, and the township election subcommission can’t reimburse them. There are lots of difficulties because they have to pay for their own expenses,” said Myint Lwin.
Win Zaw Tun, an information officer of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party’s Tharrawaddy Township chapter, said the USDP’s donation could be viewed as an attempt by the ruling party to curry favor with the local election body.
“The subcommission is supposed to be independent,” he said. “It is already breaking the law, asking for donations from the ruling party. The government is obliged to grant sufficient electoral funding.
“The township election subcommission met political parties on June 18 and the commission chairman said the commission did not have money to buy boards to display the voter lists and asked for donations from the USDP and received 128 plywood boards. He said, even so, he still had to pay for tape [to affix voter lists to the boards] out of his own pocket.”
The secretary of the USDP’s Tharrawaddy District chapter, however, told The Irrawaddy that the money to purchase the boards came from four USDP lawmakers and did constitute a direct donation from the party to the local election subcommission.
The secretary, Kyaw Soe, declined to disclose the donation’s sum total.
Hsan Thwin, chairman of the local National Unity Party (NUP) office in Tharrawaddy Township, disputed that assertion.
“At the meeting between the [election] subcommission and political parties, [Tharrawaddy] Township secretary U Kyaw Soe promised that his party would donate boards for the commission. In fact, [boards were] donated by the USDP. [The USDP is saying] lawmakers donated because they want to evade [accusations of electoral impropriety.]”
Charged with administering Burma’s general election in a nonpartisan manner, the Union Election Commission (UEC) and its subcommissions at the state, district, township and ward/village tract levels are being closely watched in the lead-up to the vote due in early November.
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in an April report that a lack of experience and resources, in particular at a local level, could hinder efforts to ensure a credible poll.
“More broadly, the electorate’s trust in government institutions is low, and the election commission is widely perceived as lacking impartiality and being politically close to the government and hence to the USDP—at the national level but even more so locally,” the report said, while noting that “the commission appears determined to deliver the most credible elections that it can, and has been impressively transparent and consultative.”
There are about 101,000 eligible voters in Tharrawaddy Township, according to the chairwoman of the local NLD chapter Mu Mu Khin, who told The Irrawaddy that the party estimated about 40 percent of eligible voters on the preliminary lists were incorrectly enumerated in some way.
Errors—as has reportedly been the case countrywide—include the exclusion of entire families in some constituencies, the inclusion of names of people not resident in the township or deceased, and incorrect birthday or national ID card data, the chairwoman said.
Mu Mu Khin added that the local NLD office has reported the widespread inaccuracies to the township election commission, but has not yet received a response. Myint Lwin said the claim that 40 percent of the listings contained errors was an overestimation.
Meanwhile, some locals say ward and village administrators’ offices where voter lists are to be displayed have remained closed for entire days during a period when the rosters are supposed to be available for public scrutiny, while in some villages the lists are being posted at the homes of local administrators and not at the administrator’s office as required.
“I went to the [ward] administrator’s office to check the voter lists on two consecutive days and the office was closed. The voter list is supposed to be shown for the public. But instead, it is locked inside the office,” said a resident of Tharrawaddy Township’s West Thabyaygon Ward.
Tharrawaddy was one of more than 100 townships in Burma that were part of a fourth and final phase of preliminary voter list displays that began on June 22. Eligible voters were initially given two weeks to check the lists’ accuracy, but the July 5 deadline was extended indefinitely amid widespread reports that the rosters were rife with errors.
Additional reporting by Andrew D. Kaspar.