Civil Society, UEC Bridge Election Monitoring Differences

By Nobel Zaw 17 February 2015

RANGOON — Burma’s Union Election Commission (UEC) has agreed to most of the amendments advocated by civil society organizations on a proposed code of conduct for monitors of this year’s general election.

“The UEC agreed to most of the points that CSOs demanded changes on and it is amazing that they agreed.” Thant Zin Aung, project manager at Election Education Observation Partnerships (EEOP), told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

A first UEC-written draft of the election monitoring rules was made available to civil society organizations in mid-December, and CSOs were given until mid-January to submit comments and suggestions for the commission. The UEC met with more than 50 local civil society groups and 11 international organizations in Rangoon on Monday to discuss the proposed revisions and finalize the document.

At the meeting, UEC chairman Tin Aye reiterated a commitment to hold this year’s elections by the end of October or early November.

“We will try to hold free and fair elections as best we can, but an election is not a win-win situation, so the winner will say the election is fair but the loser will say it is not fair,” he said on Monday.

Thant Zin Aung said the UEC had agreed to change an important ambiguity in the previous draft that appeared to allow accreditation of election monitors no more than 15 days before the polls, after CSOs pointed out that monitoring activities generally start months ahead of Election Day. The amended provision allows for accreditation from the date that Election Day is announced, which will be at least three months prior to the vote.

About two-thirds of the original code of conduct has been changed in line with the desires of CSOs, according to Ye Kyaw Swar Myint, executive director of the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections.

The UEC agreed to add specific criteria for election monitoring groups to meet for accreditation and laid out the procedure for appealing if an organization is rejected, both of which did not exist in the original draft.

Ye Kyaw Swar Myint told The Irrawaddy that Article 6 of the rules, which originally didn’t allow monitors to ask voters who they have voted for, had been nixed and replaced with a prohibition on asking such questions of voters “within 500 yards of a voting station.”

Another restriction preventing election monitors from reporting “winning candidates and related information” until after election results are officially announced by the UEC has also been struck from the code of conduct, he said, adding that an entire chapter titled “Prohibitions” was removed as well.

CSOs had been concerned that “related information” could be construed to act as an effective gag on documentation of voting irregularities or other important election monitoring activities.

Chapter 7, which originally required individual Burmese monitors to register their ethnicity in applying for accreditation, has been changed to require only an individual’s national identification number.

“The commission will send back the final version of the COC [code of conduct] and regulations for us within two weeks and we will check that it includes our agreed points,” said Ye Kyaw Swar Myint, adding that the document was expected to be officially promulgated shortly thereafter.

One suggestion that was not implemented was an EEPO request to allow any citizen to apply for election monitoring accreditation; only registered CSOs will be allowed to field monitors.

Additional reporting by San Yamin Aung.