RANGOON — The Union Election Commission (UEC) has distanced itself from the disqualification of nearly 90 parliamentary hopefuls by subsidiary bodies of the Naypyidaw-based election overseer, saying it was not responsible for the rejections, nor any appeals that might follow.
“District and divisional [and state-level] subcommissions will decide the appeals and their decision will be final. We have nothing to do with it,” UEC chairman Tin Aye said at a press conference in Rangoon on Wednesday.
The chairman did appear to offer appellants a glimmer of hope, however, saying the UEC would “take a look” at the work of subcommissions if it had reason to question their fairness.
Burma’s election laws empower state and divisional subcommissions with the “final and conclusive” say in appeals from rejected candidates, but with an exception: Section 53 of the legislation grants the UEC “the power to call for the proceedings and documents of each subcommission relating to election matters” and to “study and decide as may be necessary.”
“Such decision shall be final and conclusive,” Section 53 continues.
UEC member Win Kyi on Wednesday confirmed that a total of 88 candidates were barred from competing in the Nov. 8 general election because they had failed to meet one of several eligibility criteria. He declined to reveal which party or parties had been hit with the highest number of disqualifications.
While the rejections constitute less than 1.5 percent of the 6,189 candidates that have filed to contest the November vote, critics say Muslim candidates appear to have been disproportionately subject to disqualification.
The chairman of the Democracy and Human Rights Party, which claims to represent the interests of Muslim voters, said 17 of the 18 Muslim candidates that it had intended to field in the poll were rejected by relevant subcommissions in Arakan State and Rangoon Division.
The party intends to appeal the disqualifications, chairman Kyaw Min told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, adding that he hoped election officials would change course and “give us at least three candidates,” with the party facing deregistration if it fails to field at least a trio of successful applicants.
Another rejection that has garnered significant attention has been the candidacy bid of sitting parliamentarian Shwe Maung, a self-identified Rohingya Muslim who cleared candidate scrutiny to contest Burma’s 2010 election for the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Shwe Maung hopes to contest this year’s poll as an independent in Arakan State, but was told on Aug. 22 that he had been disqualified from competing again in his Buthidaung Township constituency.
According to Matthew Smith, director of the Bangkok-based advocacy group Fortify Rights, Shwe Maung intends to travel to Naypyidaw on Thursday to seek a review of the Arakan State election subcommission’s handling of his case.
Shwe Maung declined to comment when contacted by The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.
Nyan Win, spokesman for the National League for Democracy (NLD), told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that seven of its 1,151 candidates who filed applications with the election commission were rejected. Reasons for the disqualifications within Burma’s largest opposition party included failing to meet a minimum age requirement, ties to “unlawful associations” and residency requirement shortcomings. Election law states that candidates must have lived in Burma for the last 10 years.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Tin Aye also confirmed that a nationwide display of voter lists would take place from Sept. 14-27, when the public will have one last chance before election day to check that their names are correctly enumerated in their village or ward. The voter lists have generated controversy in their own right, with numerous inaccuracies reported when preliminary publication of the rosters took place earlier this year.
With additional reporting by Andrew D. Kaspar.