Burma

Myanmar Lower House Votes to Scrap Polling Stations on Military Bases

By San Yamin Aung 20 February 2020

YANGON—Myanmar’s Lower House voted on Thursday to require that polling stations for military personnel and their family members be placed outside of military barracks—a move that effectively abolishes military polling stations.

The Union Election Commission (UEC) submitted a number of proposed changes to electoral by-laws in November last year, including one that would allow military personnel and their family members to cast their votes outside the barracks, in order “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.”

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 eyes of their superiors. As Myanmar held a general election in 2015 and three by-elections in 2012, 2017 and 2018, independent monitoring of polling stations inside military compounds and the areas where military personnel live remained limited for security reasons.

The situation led to concerns that military voters could not vote freely for the candidates of their choice. Some political parties and analysts said members of the military were intimidated into voting for the party that their superiors supported. In some cases, members of the military were given ballots that were already filled out, or were forced to let their superiors vote on their behalf.

In previous elections, the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) saw landslide victories at military cantonment polling stations, with other parties garnering very few votes.

Military-appointed lawmakers objected to the proposal, citing security reasons and what they said would be logistical difficulties.

Brigadier-General Maung Maung told reporters on Thursday that it would cause security and transport problems in some places for military personnel and their family members to leave military barracks to vote.

“I think this is wrong. There was no problem with the military polling stations in the 2010 and 2015 general elections; the elections were free and fair and that is why the ruling party is in power today. There is no reason for it.”

A majority of Lower House lawmakers attending Parliament on Thursday voted in favor of the UEC’s changes.

Kyaw Myo contributed reporting from Naypyitaw.

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