Ethnic Leaders Demand Spot on Burma Election Commission

By Khin Oo Tha 6 February 2014

Ethnic political parties in Burma have called for the inclusion of non-Burman leaders, intellectuals and experts in the Union Election Commission (EC), to create conditions for a fair general election in 2015.

Leaders of the Nationalities Brotherhood Federation (NBF), an alliance of 20 ethnic parties, held a regular meeting in Naypyidaw last weekend and issued a statement to the government, Parliament and the public.

“The current EC was formed by the military, so it appears to have been meant for only one party,” said Zo Zam, chairman of the Chin National Party (CNP), which is part of NBF. “Instead of the existing commission, we want a new one consisting of a variety of scholars. Only then can we organization and hold fair elections.”

An estimated 40 percent of Burma’s 60 million or so population is an ethnic minority, but the government is dominated by the ethnic Burman majority.

The chairman of the EC, Tin Aye, and most of the commission members were formerly part of the central committee of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Tin Aye is also a former general.

Last year more than 60 army officers were transferred to civil administration and appointed to district- and township-level election commissions. The move was criticized by some as an attempt by the USDP to prepare in advance for the coming parliamentary election in 2015.

The EC chairman recently told media that the election would be free and fair.

“It is important that Election Commission members are not related to the USDP. At the same time, I don’t think military personnel should be appointed for this role,” said Nai Ngwe Thein, chairman of another NBF member, the All Mon Region Democracy Party (AMRDP).

The NBF also called for constitutional amendments to create a federal union and to reduce the percentage of seats in Parliament reserved for military representatives.

“Our demands are not the positions of any particular party, but rather the will of 20 political parties, and thus we believe Parliament and the president will pay special attention,” said the CNP chairman. “The president has full authority to transform or change the EC.”

The NBF also said it wanted the government to ban people with temporary identification cards, known as white cards, from contesting or voting in elections and from forming political parties, saying allowing them to do so would affect the country’s sovereignty.

The former regime handed some of the Rohingya Muslim population temporary IDs so they could vote in a constitutional referendum in 2008 as well as the national elections in 2010. The USDP hoped to gain the votes of the Muslim minority at the time.

The alliance of ethnic parties also said it worried the national census later this year could divide ethnic groups.

“The current arrangement to conduct the census with issuing code numbers based on 135 national races will create divisions among ethnic groups, thus we urge the government to consult with respective ethnic groups in different regions in order to review the process,” the NBF said in its statement.

The 20-member alliance was initially formed after the 2010 elections by the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, the CNP, the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, the AMRDP and the Phalon-Sawaw Democratic Party.