More than three weeks after a general election widely praised as credible, an ethnic Mon human rights group issued a reminder on Tuesday that not all citizens were able to have their say in the makeup of Burma’s next parliament.
“Burma 2015: Ballot Denied,” a report by the Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM), draws on 60 interviews conducted with citizens in Karen State’s Kyainseikgyi Township in October, a constituency where “tens of thousands” of voters were disenfranchised on Nov. 8.
On security grounds, polling was cancelled in 38 village tracts with about 50,000 voters across Kyainseikgyi Township, according to HURFOM. Parts of the township are under the control of the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and the Karen National Union (KNU), respectively.
However, HURFOM said that the presence of ethnic armed groups should not be used as a “blanket justification for poll closures” and argued that a lack of transparency in the process had led many respondents to express suspicions over the motives of the Union Election Commission (UEC).
“Interviews indicated that those affected by poll closures had little recourse for complaints, given that the country’s election management body… was not considered independent,” the report said. “Residents instead saw the UEC as aligned with the current USDP government and as being to blame for their disenfranchisement.”
At the Union level, seven Lower House seats were not contested on Nov. 8 due to security concerns.
“We want to raise the issue of disenfranchisement of the ethnic minorities who are living in areas controlled by both state and non-state armies. We don’t want it to happen again in future elections,” said Mi Htaw Chan, coordinator of HURFOM.
Respondents interviewed for the report included village headmen, farmers, teachers, current or former members of the NMSP and the KNU, and internally displaced persons (IDPs).
The report found that many respondents refuted the election body’s claims of a lack of security in the area. “Interviewees considered that, while armed groups were active in these areas, they no longer contributed to any kind of security threat,” the report said.
“It has been a long time since the fighting stopped,” Daw Than Myint, a 63-year-old Shan resident of Lut Shan village in Kyainseikgyi Township, is quoted as saying. “Now, they claim that the area is not safe for conducting elections and we have lost our right to vote.”
Eligible voters in remote villages were also unable to cast ballots due to difficulties reaching polling stations and a lack of voter education, Mi Htaw Chan said.
The report found that of 41 respondents asked about their knowledge of the upcoming election, 93 percent showed “negligible or low knowledge,” while 90 percent said they did not know how to vote.
HURFOM raised concerns that the disenfranchised citizens would feel excluded from the country’s “developing political community.”
“Disenfranchisement of ethnic groups represents a serious concern when hopes for national peacebuilding and reconciliation rest on the success of efforts to secure political inclusion for ethnic citizens,” the group said in a statement on Tuesday.
The UEC said on Tuesday that voter turnout on Nov. 8 was just below 70 percent. For Union Parliament seats, some 23 million of 34 million eligible voters cast ballots, the commission said.