Election 2020

No Major Irregularities in Myanmar Election: Carter Center

By Nan Lwin 11 November 2020

YANGON — The Carter Center, formed by the former US president Jimmy Carter, found voters in Myanmar were able to freely express their will and choose representatives in Sunday’s election, saying that it has not found major irregularities at polling stations.

However, the NGO said reform is needed to the legal framework that undermines the quality of Myanmar’s democracy including reserved seats for military appointees and the Union Election Commission’s (UEC) lack of transparency in making decisions, especially the cancelation of voting in ethnic minority areas and weaknesses in the management of early voting.

It said constitutional reforms are needed to address “reserved military seats, the inequality of the vote across constituencies, the undue restrictions on who can be president and the appointment procedures for the Union Election Commission that undermine its independence”.

The international observation group praised the UEC’s efforts to update the voter roll, train election officials and adapt procedures for older voters amid COVID-19. However, it pointed out that the UEC’s decision making lacked transparency in some instances such as failing to provide public access to timely election data, election cancelations and postponements that stopped voting for more than 1.4 million citizens.

“It will leave 22 seats in the national parliament vacant,” the Carter Center said.

In late October, the UEC canceled voting in nine townships in northern Rakhine State and six in Shan State, all ethnic party strongholds, saying there were security concerns. The cancelation excluded seven seats in the Upper House and 15 Lower House seats from the Union Parliament.

The Carter Center said the military should fully respect the constitutional provision that says, “they may only hold a number of seats equivalent to one-third of the elected seats in state and regional parliaments”.

Drafted in 2008 by the then-ruling military junta, the Constitution reserves 25 percent of parliamentary seats for military appointees — just enough to veto amendments — and has been widely criticized as undemocratic.

Moreover, the Carter Center said the management of advance, out-of-constituency voting lacked safeguards to ensure the secrecy and integrity of the vote.

It said homebound voting for older voters to limit coronavirus exposure also attracted criticism because of unclear or inconsistently applied procedures.

It criticized discriminatory citizenship requirements that excluded hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who lost the right to vote prior to the 2015 general election and limited the rights of some ethnic minority citizens to stand as candidates.

Although COVID-19 impacted the public campaigning such as inconsistent enforcement of restrictions, and claims of privileged access of the National League for Democracy, the observers found that two-thirds of the candidates interviewed were able to campaign freely with equal conditions.

It pointed out that the UEC’s review of political party scripts for free airtime on television and radio appeared overly stringent and at odds with international obligations on freedom of expression.

Some political parties, including ethnic parties, decided not to air their campaign speeches after the UEC censored their scripts.

The Carter Center said its mission has been affected by COVID-19 and its observers could not access the process fully due to travel restrictions. On election day, the center dispatched 43 observers to 234 polling stations in 10 states and regions.

Sunday’s election was the second general election held in Myanmar since the end of total military rule in 2011. According to the UEC, 87 parties contested seats in the Union, state and regional parliaments.

Editor’s Note: The story was updated on Thursday to reflect the Carter Center’s encouragement of the military to fully respect the constitutional provisions.

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