Election Watchdog Has Big Plans, But Are They Big Enough?

By Moe Myint 16 July 2015

RANGOON — A coalition of civil society organizations known as the Election Education and Observation Partners (EEOP) will be deployed at polling stations in more than 100 townships to monitor Burma’s general election on Nov. 8, according to a board of directors member of one of the organizations involved in the effort.

Speaking at an EEOP press conference in Rangoon on Wednesday, New Myanmar Foundation board member Mya Nandar said the effort would cover roughly one-third of Burma’s townships. The scale of the coalition’s coordination is both impressive and illustrative of the challenges to ensuring a free and fair poll later this year, given that the EEOP will field the country’s largest monitoring force and its members will still be absent from two-thirds of Burma’s 330 townships.

The EEOP was founded in 2014, comprising 24 local election monitoring organizations including several ethnic minority associations and community groups that plan to coordinate their observation work in an effort to ensure a credible vote.

Most of those who will be observing the polls will be doing so for the first time, but international election monitoring organizations such as the Carter Center and the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) have been providing technical support in the lead up to the election.

Cho Mya Oo, joint secretary-2 of the Taunggyi chapter of Cherry Image, an EEOP member, told The Irrawaddy that the upcoming election would be the group’s first time observing elections, with many challenges already presenting themselves.

“One of the key challenges is the disruptions from local authorities. Some groups disturb us even when we are conducting voter list error awareness with the public in that area,” she said, specifically singling out police, Special Branch officers and local administrators as impeding those efforts in some places.

Cherry Image hopes to enlist volunteers to fan out to more than 600 polling stations in Shan State, Cho Mya Oo said.

Om Ki, director of the Chin State-based RID, also an EEOP member, said his group had similarly faced harassment from local authorities in Chin State when it tried to raise awareness about the need for voters to check voter lists for errors and petition to have any inaccuracies corrected.

He added that the EEOP had met with the UEC in Naypyidaw this week and discussed the code of conduct that election observation groups will be expected to follow.

EEOP member Kyi Min Thu of the Public Welfare Network told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that his network planned to mobilize more than 2,500 people to monitor the election, though he acknowledged that those plans were subject to change within the context of Burma’s fluid political environment.

And while 2,500 sets of eyes may sound like a formidable deterrent against electoral fraud, placing just one of the Public Welfare Network’s observers per poll station would cover just over 5 percent of the 47,000 voting locations that the UEC has said will be open on election day.

The EEOP plans to write a report of its election day findings following the vote, using a yet-to-be-finalized, standardized questionnaire to talk to voters in an attempt to gauge to what extent the election was free and fair, according to Mya Nandar.

The EEOP will have a presence in all seven of Burma’s divisions and six of its states, with only Kachin State unmonitored by the coalition.