Burma’s President Thein Sein took to the airwaves on Tuesday for his last monthly radio address before a landmark general election to be held on Sunday, predicting a peaceful polling day and highlighting his administration’s achievements in a final push for support.
“The upcoming November poll will be free and fair, and we will try to have it be 100 percent peaceful, though there are challenges to making it 100 percent comprehensive,” Thein Sein said, acknowledging that large parts of the population will not be able to participate.
In addition to concerns about problematic voter lists that could leave many citizens unable to cast ballots, hundreds of thousands of stateless Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State had their suffrage rights revoked earlier this year, though they were allowed to vote in previous elections.
Additionally, villagers in hundreds of village tracts in conflict-affected areas will not be able to vote because polling has been cancelled due to concerns about stability. In Shan State, voting will not occur in all or part of 17 townships because of fighting between the Burma Army and the Shan State Progressive Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N), which kicked off in early October and has since displaced thousands of civilians.
The SSPP/SSA-N was not among the signatories of a multi-lateral ceasefire reached between the government and eight of the country’s more than 20 non-state armed groups on Oct. 15, The agreement, which was widely welcomed by the international community as a step toward ending the country’s decades of civil war, was referenced by Thein Sein on Tuesday as a crowning achievement of his administration.
Acknowledging that his administration has faced “obstacles and challenges” during his term, Thein Sein said the upcoming election is “proof that Burmese society and its citizens deserve democracy and that we are ready to give momentum to change,” contradicting remarks he made just last week in his native Ngaputaw Township.
A total of 6,065 candidates from more than 90 political parties will compete in Sunday’s nationwide vote, while more than 10,500 observers from both domestic and international organizations have been authorized to monitor the poll.
This includes 470 diplomats from 32 embassies in Burma, 465 staff members from six international election observation groups, 183 staff members from nine international NGOs, 9,406 people from local election observation groups, and 290 foreign journalists, according to the Union Election Commission (UEC).
However, a local election awareness trainer said that the number of observers is less than ten percent of the total needed for the country’s more than 40,000 polling stations.
Thant Zin Aung, director of the Forward Institute, which provides voter awareness education across Burma, recently told The Irrawaddy that “we would need 120,000 observers for nationwide observation.”
Given that the government has promised to honor the election outcome—the results of a 1990 poll were ignored by the former junta—political observers are optimistic that reform will continue even after the polls have closed. Thein Sein said that power will be handed over to the next government if that is the election outcome, and that he urged the public to accept the election result, as well.
Despite the relative optimism surrounding the poll, which is hoped to be the country’s freest and fairest in decades, concerns have been raised over possible fraud and alleged vote-buying by ruling party candidates.
Independent political analyst Aung Thu Nyein predicted that reports of irregularities will likely abound during the post-election period, though “it is too early” to determine whether specific allegations, such as electoral fraud, will occur.