YANGON—Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC) has proposed changes to electoral by-laws that would allow military personnel and their family members to cast their votes outside military barracks—a move that would effectively abolish military polling stations.
Since the 2010 general election, military voters—military personnel and their family members—in many constituencies have been ordered to vote in military cantonments, under the watch of their superiors. As Myanmar held a general election in 2015 and three by-elections in 2012, 2017 and 2018, monitoring of polling stations inside military compounds and the areas where military personnel live remained limited for security reasons.
In its draft amendments to electoral by-laws submitted to the Union Parliament, the UEC proposed a provision that would mandate polling stations for military personnel and their family members be placed outside the barracks, for them “to be able to cast votes together with civilian voters and to be transparent, where candidates, observers and party representatives can freely enter and monitor.”
Many have expressed concerns that military voters can’t vote freely for the candidates they support because they are being watched by their commanders inside the military polling stations.
Some political parties and analysts have said members of the military were intimidated into voting for the party that their superiors supported. In some cases, members of the military had their votes directly controlled by their superiors: they received ballots that were already filled out or their superiors voted on their behalf.
In previous elections, the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) saw a landslide victory at military cantonment polling stations while other parties saw very few votes.
Myanmar’s military has an estimated 500,000 personnel. With the addition of family members, over 1 million people out of an estimated 32 million eligible voters in the 2015 election were affiliated with the military.
In September, the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) told the media that it was opposed to placing polling stations inside barracks and would ask to review electoral laws for possible changes ahead of next year’s elections.
Military spokesperson Major-General Tun Tun Nyi responded to the NLD’s objection, saying that members of the military and their families need to vote inside the barracks as they are too busy to go outside.
“We are on duty 24 hours per day. It is difficult for both military personnel and their family members to go vote outside,” he told reporters during a military press conference in Naypyitaw last month.
The UEC’s draft amendments also included changes to the system that allows military voters to cast votes in advance of elections. The amendment states that military voters outside their assigned constituencies will need to cast their advance votes at their military bases at the time and date scheduled by the UEC, instead of the date scheduled by their commanders.
The draft changes also included a provision that would allow people to request to transfer their registered voting location to their current residence after only 90 days living in a location, rather than the current minimum of 180 days. The proposed change is intended to encourage internal migrants to vote.
The proposed changes were submitted to both houses of Parliament on Oct. 3, according to lawmakers.
NLD lawmaker U Nay Myo Tun from the Lower House bill committee told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the UEC’s proposed changes will come into effect within 90 days if there is no objection from Parliament.
USDP lawmaker U Thaung Aye expressed opposition to the UEC’s proposed amendments, saying that the UEC should make changes only after carefully studying the military’s nature and structure. He added that voting outside the military compound would create difficulties for military voters and jeopardize the security of the cantonments.
Additional reporting by Htet Naing Zaw from Naypyitaw