Election 2020

Myanmar’s Largest Poll Monitor Hits Out at UEC After Being Banned From 2020 Election

By San Yamin Aung 14 August 2020

YANGON—The director of Myanmar’s largest election monitoring group, PACE, called the country’s election commission “irresponsible” after its spokesperson offered opaque comments on whether the group’s monitors have been banned from observing the upcoming general election.

PACE announced yesterday that the Union Election Commission (UEC) had barred it from observing the general election set for November.

When asked about the ban on Friday, however, UEC spokesperson U Myint Naing told reporters during an event in Naypyitaw, “It’s not true,” without offering any further comment. The Irrawaddy made several phone calls to the official for clarification but he wasn’t available.

PACE had been planning to observe the Nov. 8 polls by fielding nearly 3,000 observers, which would have been the largest contingent fielded among local election monitoring groups. It has successfully monitored Myanmar’s elections since 2015, including two by-elections under the current election commission’s tenure.

In a notice to PACE dated July 30, the UEC denied the monitoring group’s application for accreditation, reasoning that it had been receiving international funding, for all its unofficially registered status. Under the local election monitoring group guidelines issued by the UEC, the group must have an “accreditation letter” first. After that it requires an approved card for each observer to monitor the polling stations.

PACE has receiving funding from the Department for International Development (DFID/UKaid), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and Open Society Myanmar. The group publishes its funding sources on its website.

PACE director U Sai Ye Kyaw Swar Myint responded to the remarks of U Myint Naing by describing them as “irresponsible”.

“We can do nothing without the [UEC’s] accreditation,” he added. Following the announcement of PACE’s banning, many critics and rights activists harshly criticized the commission, saying its decision to shun the country’s largest monitoring group raised questions over the credibility of the vote.

It remains unclear why the commission would deny the group accreditation now, after giving it a green light in the general election in 2015 and two by-elections in 2017 and 2018.

According to Myanmar’s laws relating to the registration of non-governmental organizations, registration is voluntary. Moreover, the group said the UEC told election-monitoring groups recently that they would be approved to observe the election regardless of whether they were registered organizations.

PACE responded that the group has faced bureaucratic obstacles in registering, including the commission’s refusal to give its “recommendation” to the group, which is required. The group’s director also said it had been open about its funding.

UEC representatives weren’t available for comment on Friday.

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