Five polling stations in central Shan State’s Mong Hsu Township will be moved to other nearby polling booths for the April 1 by-election, and will not be closed as was requested by members of the the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party last week.
The Shan State sub-electoral commission made the decision after meeting with the villages and township sub-electoral committees on Friday that those polling stations would be merged with others nearby.
Mong Hsu Township has about 43,000 eligible voters and 50 polling stations. If those five polling stations in three villages tracts—where more than 4,400 people are eligible to vote—were canceled, 10 percent of the township’s population would lose their voting rights.
However, local NLD members raised security concerns about the area controlled by the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N), and proposed shutting down the polling stations last week. SSPP had pledged that they would not interfere with the political process.
U Thein Win, the chairman of the Mong Hsu Township electoral committee told The Irrawaddy on Monday that they had started informing the voters through the village sub-electoral committees about moving the polling stations to new venues.
“We encourage the public to vote,” he said, despite the fact that the distance to polling stations could be challenging for voters on by-election day.
Originally, school buildings in the village tracts of Maomate, Kunkyaung and Naunghpat were designated as polling stations. The parties and the respective electoral committee discussed it three times, as many of them did not want to move the stations to places further away.
U Thein Win said some parties wanted to close the stations, saying that they were not able to mobilize voters for the by-elections in those areas and that it would affect a free and fair electoral process.
Five parties are contesting for the eight seats up for grabs in Shan State: two in the Lower House and six in the state parliament. The parties include the NLD, the Shan Nationalities Development Party, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party and the Wa Liberal Democratic Development Party.
As Mong Hsu and nearby Kesi townships canceled the general election in November 2015, voters in the region are now eager to cast their votes.
“We do not want the by-elections to be canceled for these villages—we want to proceed, whatever it takes,” said U Thein Win.
Now the voters will have to travel a maximum of 18-20 miles to vote, he said, and that could impact voter turnout.
“The percentage of the voter turnout could decrease, because we are worried that the villagers—who usually have low levels of education and might have less knowledge about the elections—would not go out to vote in those faraway places,” U Thein Win added.
When asked how the government planned to help those who would have to travel to vote, he said they could only encourage the public to go out and vote on the by-election day, but were not able to provide support as such transportation.
“But it would be good if the civil society groups can help organize it,” he added.