Advance Voters Cry Foul

By Colin Hinshelwood, Election 30 March 2012

Polling stations opened on Friday morning for two days of advance voting, but allegations of vote-buying, intimidation and voter list discrepancies are threatening to derail the by-election before it even begins.

Reports have come to The Irrawaddy that in six villages in Pegu and Rangoon divisions, residents who registered for advance voting were told that they did not need to go to polling stations and that election officers would come to their homes where they could complete their ballots and hand them back to the officials.

In addition, elderly voters and pregnant women were informed that members of the local election committee would come to their houses to collect their votes, according to an international observer who asked to remain anonymous.

Meanwhile, the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) have complained that their party observers are not allowed to monitor the advance voting process.

Advanced voting is set specifically for voters who will be outside their constituencies on April 1, the day of the by-election. Defense services personnel, students, trainees, detainees, and in-patients at hospitals are also allowed to vote on Friday and Saturday.

But in Magway, teachers claim they were told to vote on March 26 as they would be required to supervise polling stations, many of which are set up inside schools, on April 1. Several teachers reportedly refused to cast ballots.

In other constituencies, including Pegu, advance voters were asked to fill out ballot papers as early as March 16.

Meanwhile, a self-proclaimed “citizens observers group,” headed by 88 Generation leader Ko Ko Gyi, has announced that it will investigate cases of citizens who registered to vote in advance but who were refused or omitted from voters registers.

The group said it will organize a team of polling station observers—some disguised as party agents—who will record the official number of advance voters as read out by officials when ballot-counting gets underway after Sunday’s election. Following that, they said they will mobilize their ground staff to contact each household to ascertain who actually voted.

In a press conference at her Inya Lake home on Friday morning, NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi condemned what she called “irregularities that go beyond what is acceptable for democratic elections.”