Election Monitors Welcome Revised Code of Conduct

By San Yamin Aung 20 March 2015

RANGOON — Rules for elections monitors have been finalized as Burma’s highly anticipated general elections near, the Union Elections Commission (UEC) announced on Thursday, after revising the regulations to address criticisms by civil society.

An announcement published in Burmese state media on Friday revealed the UEC’s Elections Monitoring Code of Conduct in full, detailing basic rules that will apply to both local and international observers. Additional regulations are soon to follow.

The code lays out 19 rules for local and 16 rules for international organizations that will observe the voting process, Burma’s first nationwide general election since the former military junta ceded power to quasi-civilian government in 2011.

Following consultation with civil society organizations, the UEC agreed to most of the recommended changes to a previous draft of the code, also published on Friday for the public’s consideration.

The original draft was offered to CSOs in mid-December, with a window for review that closed in mid-January.

“All of the points we recommended are included in the new code,” Thant Zin Aung, a project manager for the monitoring group New Myanmar Foundation, told The Irrawaddy.

Among the points suggested by civil society and adopted by the UEC is the right to enter polling stations, as well as permission to conduct exit polls 15 yards from polling stations, which was prohibited in the early draft.

The current code requires supervisors from all monitoring groups to attend UEC trainings; the original draft demanded that all members of each group attend.

A section of the original draft prohibiting monitors from making predictions or statements about election results before the UEC has announced official outcomes has been removed, as has a provision that would hold independent monitors accountable for the accuracy of all of their publications and statements.

Thant Zin Aung expressed confidence in the new guidelines, predicting that “this will be more open and free than previous elections.”

During by-elections held in 2012, election monitors were not allowed to enter polling stations and were subject to various other restrictions.

“At that time, we couldn’t observe freely, we faced obstacles and threats. But now, since they were trying to accommodate us, I believe we can observe more freely this time,” Thant Zin Aung said.

Sai Ye Kyaw Swar Myint, executive director of the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections (PACE), said that although the UEC accepted all of the recommendations made by CSOs last month, the crucial test will be putting the code into practice through nationwide networks in the lead-up to polls.

“We are having a lot of discussions with the UEC, which is based in Naypyidaw, and reaching a lot of agreements. But what concerns me is how much well the UEC can distribute this information to sub-commissions at all levels,” he said. “The UEC needs to train all of their sub-commissions well.”

Friday’s announcement also laid out discrete rules for observers, prohibiting interference in voting, vote counting and publishing early results.

Observers will not be allowed to interfere with official decision-making in the event of a dispute, and must not disrupt the responsibilities of heads of polling stations.