Election 2020

Myanmar Election Commissioner: No Groups Will Be Disenfranchised

By Htun Htun 13 August 2020

The Union Election Commission (UEC) made its preliminary voter lists public on July 25 and said the lists will be on display until Aug. 7. The preliminary lists are intended to allow voters to check their registration information and correct any errors to ensure they are able to vote in November’s election.

But after an unexpectedly high number of errors were found, the UEC said the preliminary lists will remain on display until Aug. 14 so that voters have more time to have the mistakes fixed.

Meanwhile, some Myanmar voters have called on their fellow citizens not to vote in the general election, complaining that the National League for Democracy (NLD) government has been unable to fulfill the expectations of voters who supported the party in the 2015 general election.

UEC member U Myint Naing recently talked to The Irrawaddy’s reporter Htun Htun about the errors in the voter lists, the commission’s plans to ensure the suffrage of Myanmar migrant workers, and its activities on social media to encourage citizens to vote in the election.

The Irrawaddy: What are the causes of the erroneous voter lists?

U Myint Naing: There was duplication of names because of errors in digitalizing the voter information. And there were also weaknesses in [the process of] rechecking them. But now, we have formed groups to handle those errors.

How many voters have so far forwarded requests to correct information in the voter lists?

At the national level, nearly 200,000 eligible voters were not included in the lists, and over 60,000 ineligible voters are on the lists. And information of some 104,000 voters was entered incorrectly.

What steps has the UEC taken to allow people who have attained the age of 18, but who do not yet have citizenship IDs, to vote?

For the time being, the Immigration and Population Department is implementing a plan targeting such people. The most important thing is that they are included in the voter lists. That gives them the right to cast a vote. If they can present other official photo IDs like student IDs, driving licenses, Red Cross IDs or auxiliary firefighter IDs, they will be included in the voter list.

The citizenship ID is mainly used to check whether or not the holder is on a voter list. Even if you don’t have such an ID, if the ward administrator or election sub-commission members of the ward where you live confirm that you are on the voter list, you still have the right to vote. We estimate there will be around 5 million first-time voters in the November election.

What measures will the UEC take to ensure that internally displaced persons (IDPs) sheltering in camps will be able to cast votes?

We have adopted plans and are working on them to make sure they are not disenfranchised. As we have some three months until the election, things may change. For our part, we are working for the IDPs to be able to cast votes. We are assessing whether they can cast votes in the camps, and how they can do so.

What about internal migrants, especially those who have returned from foreign countries [due to COVID-19]?

If their employers or concerned ward and village administrators confirm that they have been staying at their current locations for more than 90 days—for example, in a situation where the voter is not able to go back to their hometown, where they are primarily registered—they can use a Form 3 to apply to cast ballots in their current constituencies.

Upon receiving the applications, election sub-commissions will carefully check whether [the applicants] have really been staying in those places for more than 90 days. If they have, the relevant election sub-commission will put them on the voter list, and their names will be omitted from the voter list in their hometown. They can cast votes that way. They don’t lose the right to vote.

As for the returning migrants, we are also scrutinizing carefully to make sure they are included on the voter lists. More are still coming back to the country, so we are paying special attention to make sure they are included in the voter lists of the constituencies where they have arrived.

What preparations has the UEC made in the event that there is not enough time for everyone to vote due to COVID-19 social distancing measures at polling stations?

We are coordinating health guidelines with the Health Ministry. Soon, we will inform voters about those guidelines. We have sought advice from the Health Ministry and are designing standard operating procedures.

There have also been calls for a boycott of the November election. What is the UEC’s response to this?

In an election, people have the right to vote or stand for election. A person who is eligible to cast a vote can choose either to vote or not to vote. This is the right of individuals. But they don’t have the right to ask others not to cast votes.

Encouraging others not to vote in the election violates articles 57, 58(b) and (d), 60, and 61(b) and (c) of the Election Law.

To vote or not to vote is the right of an individual, but encouraging others not to vote violates those articles.

Police are authorized to take action in such cases. Action can be taken against the violators before and during the election, and within 15 days of election day. Complaints can be filed with police about such electoral offenses.

Do you think the ‘No Vote’ campaign will negatively affect the result of the election?

Yes. Such calls to not cast votes have a definite impact on the election and voters.

And the Myanmar military has said that in certain areas, its service personnel and their families will cast votes at polling stations inside cantonments. So, what are the latest developments on this? Has the UEC obtained voter lists from the military?

In some places, cantonments are far [from civilian residential areas]. In that case, polling stations will be opened inside cantonments. So far, we have over 600 military polling stations on the list, and are scrutinizing and determining the number of voters to be allowed at each polling station. We have the list of military voters. We are registering them, but we can’t provide figures.

And there has been criticism over the UEC’s delay in its approval of election observer groups. What’s your response to that?

We are scrutinizing [the groups] according to the guidelines. There have been delays because we have had to ask for more information.

How will the UEC handle campaigning on social media?

Those who have submitted candidacy applications are not yet approved by the UEC as candidates. So, they still can’t describe themselves as candidates and solicit votes. We will issue guidelines about campaigning.

Regarding what they do on Facebook, that’s up to Facebook’s guidelines. We can’t control Facebook. Regarding misinformation and misreports, that concerns Facebook’s guidelines. The existing laws [in Myanmar] bar the abuse of religion for political purposes and disrupting elections and so on. Candidates have to follow the existing laws. There will be more campaigning on Facebook.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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