Myanmar Junta’s New Voting Machines are Also Vote-Rigging Machines: Observers

By The Irrawaddy 14 February 2023

Last week, junta boss Min Aung Hlaing and his fellow generals tried out the new Myanmar Electronic Voting Machine (MEVM) as part of plans for a national poll that will be neither free nor fair.

Officials from the junta-appointed Union Election Commission (UEC) explained to generals how the MEVM operates.

The military claimed the voting machine was its own invention, despite producing barely anything other than beer and green tea.

Most observers believe the junta’s major arms supplier, Russia, produced the machines. However, a source from the administrative capital of Naypyitaw said India, Myanmar’s neigbor and the world’s largest democracy, also played a part.

“Russia helps with modifying the machine, and [the regime] imports spare parts from India,” said the source.

Junta spokesman Major-General Zaw Min Tun told reporters the regime plans to replace ballot boxes with the MEVMs on condition they work as intended.

The regime has repeatedly announced plans to hold a general election but has failed to set a timeframe. Democracies around the world have dismissed the planned poll as a sham aimed at cementing the military’s grip on power.

The MEVM comprises a control unit, balloting unit, and verification unit, all powered by a 12-volt battery, according to a junta statement. It can also be connected to a printer.

According to information leaked from the regime-controlled UEC, the junta plans to test the machine with 2,000 mock voters at a polling station.

The move has prompted questions over why the regime wants to replace manual voting with electronic voting.

Observers suggest it is planning to introduce online voting via the MEVMS because armed conflicts around the country have made it impossible to set up polling stations.

“If voters have to go to polling stations, there won’t be any difference between using ballot boxes or electronic machines. I am sure they aim to enable online voting with that machine,” said an election observer.

The regime recently reported that more than 100 of the country’s 330 townships are unstable, and it hopes to use the MEVM to enable people from those townships to cast votes, said a source close to the UEC.

The junta may also have other motives for introducing the MEVM. A digital system would likely allow the junta-appointed UEC to rig the vote more efficiently.

The major challenge of using electronic voting comes from hackers, said a technician. “But, they [the regime] are backed by Russia, so it will definitely be a good show.”

One advantage of voting machines is they produce fewer void votes. Their major weakness is that the junta-controlled UEC can use them to alter the results.

The MEVM is based on the electronic voting system used in Myanmar’s bicameral legislature, according to a former lawmaker. In that system, it is Parliament speakers who have access to the voting results; for the MEVM system, it will be the UEC chair.

“The main problem is the UEC chairman,” he said.

Current UEC chairman U Thein So managed to conjure up early votes for the military’s proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) when he oversaw the general election in 2010. With the electronic voting machine, he can do the same, said the former lawmaker.

“In 2010, U Thein Soe was tasked with ensuring electoral victory for the USDP. And he has been given the same task 13 years later,” said the lawmaker.