‘These Are Worrisome Conditions for Elections’

By San Yamin Aung 12 March 2015

As chairman of the subcommission tasked with an important three-phase project compiling voter lists in Rangoon and other preparatory measures ahead of elections late this year, retired Col. Ko Ko is overseeing an undertaking that is crucial to ensuring credible polls.

His Rangoon Division Election Subcommission team is currently putting together the list of eligible voters in 14 Rangoon townships, the second phase of a process that began in November and has yet to commence its third and final phase. The project involves compiling voter rolls based on household registration records in each ward and township across Burma’s biggest city.

This week The Irrawaddy spoke with Ko Ko about the technical challenges of the task, addition efforts underway to ensure a smooth vote, and the potential impact of political volatility on the much-anticipated election.

Question: Tell me about the subcommission’s preparations for the general election. What has already been done and what work is ongoing?

Answer: For the coming general elections, we have been doing the compilation of voter lists and computerization of voters’ information in advance [of the announcement of the Election Day date], beginning in November last year.

The Yangon Region Election Subcommission is compiling voter lists in 45 townships in three phases. We chose the lowly populated 10 townships in the first phase and we completed the first phase in January. We are now compiling the voter lists in highly populated 14 townships of second phase, which is expected to be finished in May. [Compiling lists] in the 21 townships of the third phase is expected to start at the end of this month.

We will publicly post the voter lists of the 10 townships that we have finished from March 30 to April 12. Before we post the lists, civil society organizations will conduct voter education, from March 16 to March 29. They will educate the public on checking their names on the list by using vehicles with loudspeakers that will travel around the townships; by distributing stickers, pamphlets and posters in public places; and going door to door and organizing public talks.

Q: What are the subcommission’s plans for voter education in addition to the CSOs’ plans since, in general, much of the public may not know or have an interest in checking their names on the lists ahead of the election?

A: We are planning to make short films, compose songs and [publish] articles about the election. We will broadcast the videos, songs and news tickers on TV channels and radios, and put the articles in newspapers and journals.

We are giving the public 14 days to check their names on these preliminary lists, but when the election date is officially announced, the nationwide voter lists will be made available again for only seven days to the public across the country.

We want the voters to collaborate during this stage [initial voter list verification] so that we can get complete and correct lists. If not, we will be the only ones who are blamed for any wrongful inclusions or exclusions on the lists.

Q: Is the compiling of these lists behind schedule?

A: Yes. The first phase was targeted to be completed in December last year, but it couldn’t be finished until January. And we expected to start the third phase at the end of last month, but we still haven’t been able to start because when computerizing the voters’ information, the township and ward subcommissions are compiling it with a small number of computers, are sometimes weak in manpower, face electricity cuts and at the beginning, they faced a temporary software crash.

Q: When will the nationwide list be completed?

A: We expect to finish in June. But all of these lists are preliminary results for the elections.

Q: Are owners of temporary ID documents—the so-called ‘white card holders’—included in the voters lists? I ask because they are eligible to cast a vote according to the [amended 2011] Election Law, but the president has said all temporary identification cards will expire on March 31.

A: They were included in the lists since they are eligible to vote according to the law. But after the president announced that the cards would expire on March 31, we stopped putting their names on the lists and started annulling their names from the lists that they had been included on. They are given two months [April and May] to apply for replacement cards. Their cards will be replaced by the Ministry of Immigration, according to their laws and regulations.

However, their names will not be included when we announce the first lists on March 30.

Q: I heard that the balloting system will be different in this election. How will it change?

A: Yes, it will. The voters don’t need to tick the right mark on ballot papers [with pens]. We will have a stamp that will indicate a valid mark instead of pens, and the voters just need to stamp the box [of their preferred candidates]. And in previous [elections], we didn’t mark the voters who cast a vote [to prevent voters from voting more than once]. But this year, we will mark their finger with ink, which will last at least 12 hours from when they have finished voting.

Q: Some are calling for the replacement of members of the Union Election Commission [UEC], saying the current commission is not independent and can’t organize a fair election. What do you say to that?

A: If they are saying the UEC is not free, I would like to point out that the current UEC was formed in 2011. We organized well in the 2012 by-elections as a new commission. We counted truthfully on advanced voting, which was widely criticized in the 2010 general elections. The NLD [National League for Democracy] won nearly every constituency and they got the most votes from advanced voting. So, I would like to ask: Why do they continue to say that? They don’t believe that the commission can organize a free and fair election even though it was proven in the 2012 by-elections.

Q: The violent crackdowns on student protesters and striking garment workers in Rangoon and Letpadan, and clashes in northern Shan State and Kachin State, have taken place recently. Do you think this instability could affect the elections?

A: We will try to organize the elections no matter what, but these are worrisome conditions for the elections. If the country is not stable, it will be difficult to hold the elections. We don’t want any riots or violence.