Citing Nonpartisan Duty, Election Chief Says ‘Sorry’ to Former Party

By San Yamin Aung 17 June 2015

RANGOON — The head of the Union Election Commission says members of his former party, the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, want his favor in Burma’s much-anticipated general election, but will be disappointed as he seeks to serve as a fair arbiter of the polls.

“How could they like me?,” Tin Aye told The Irrawaddy in a recent interview when asked whether his former party is happy with his handling of the election to date, saying the USDP “want me to take their side,” but professing a no-nonsense approach to electoral shenanigans.

The electoral body chief defended his chairmanship tenure, pointing to a 2012 by-election that was widely considered to be a credible poll and saw the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) win 43 of the 44 seats it contested.

That stood in contrast to the last nationwide election, when Tin Aye ran as one of 883 USDP candidates who would go on to win more than 75 percent of the seats up for grabs. The result was widely discredited amid numerous reports of voting irregularities and fraud.

One commonly reported irregularity was advanced votes, which appeared to swing races in favor of the USDP in several constituencies. Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Sunday at the UEC’s Rangoon branch office, Tin Aye acknowledged that the USDP had “played” the advanced vote to its advantage in 2010.

New procedures and restrictions in the 2012 by-election had shored up the credibility of advanced voting, he said, and would again be in place for the upcoming poll. Those measures included invalidating any advanced vote ballots received after 6 am on Election Day, and requiring that advanced votes be counted before any ballots cast on polling day.

The former patron of the USDP won a seat for his party in the Lower House of Parliament in 2010, representing Mandalay Division’s Tada-U Township. He was nominated by President Thein Sein to serve as chairman of a reconfigured UEC in 2011, and officially renounced his party affiliation before taking up the post.

The chairman’s partisan past has inevitably prompted skepticism over whether the former general is capable of conducting a credible nationwide election due in early November.

But in an extensive interview he pushed back against doubters and asked if he might “toot my own horn” on his unbiased stewardship of electoral preparations. That would continue through Election Day, he said, promising to enforce any and all laws on the books to ensure a free and fair vote.

“You would ask me, ‘What if they put pressure on the officers of polling stations?’ I made the official announcement that if they accept such wrongdoing, such as if they accept late advanced votes … I will put them in jail,” he said.

Polling station officers would be provided with all relevant laws, by-laws and instruction materials, he said, as well as receiving pre-election training on the “must-knows, dos and don’ts” of Election Day.

Tin Aye acknowledged a lingering “attachment” to his old party, but maintained that the ties would not jeopardize the credibility of an election that reform advocates hope will be Burma’s first free and fair vote in 25 years.

“As chairman of the UEC, I shouldn’t have that kind of [attached] feeling. However, I do have an attachment to my former organization,” he said. “But I will not put my attachment at the fore; the public’s decision is paramount. They have been my friends and colleagues for a long time. I want them to win, but in a fair way.”

“If they come and ask to me to help them win the election, I will say ‘I’m sorry.’”