NLD Voters Complain of Exclusion From Register

By Election, Hpyo Wai Tha 29 March 2012

RANGOON—As the April 1 by-elections draw ever closer, Thet Htut Aung becomes even more nervous.

“My name is still not on the official voter list. Now I’m very worried that I’m going to miss the official opportunity to support the party I admire,” said the Mingalar Taung Nyunt Township resident while sporting a headband that bears the white star and a fighting peacock insignia of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

When the 24-year-old complained about his omission to the local election authorities, they replied that he was not a permanent resident.

But Thet Htut Aung is not only one who had been left off the list.

“We still have around 490 people to add to the voter registration list and 423 to scratch out who are not eligible for the polls,” said Sein Myaing, an NLD campaign official in Mingalar Taung Nyunt Township in eastern Rangoon where Phyu Phyu Thin is standing for the party.

The campaign official explained the root of the problem lies in the 2010 general election voter list that the government is still using for Sunday’s by-elections.

“Even at the time [in 2010] the list was not clean. The relevant authorities still haven’t updated it. There’s no wonder we still have so many errors now.”

Since last month, the NLD has complained about many irregularities concerning the upcoming ballot, with the names of dead people as well as those too young to participate discovered on the voting register.

“Getting a free and fair election totally depends on the voter list. We will keep an eye on it,” said Phyu Phyu Thin. “It’s out of the question that the government and the relevant authorities are responsible for the polls.”

On Tuesday evening, as soon as he found himself on a light truck for a campaign trip to a nearby ward, Thet Htut Aung seemed to forget his worries. He sang along with NLD campaign songs blaring from huge speakers attached to the vehicle.

Both sides of the street were teeming with people boasting NLD headbands with some wearing party T-shirts. Old people and children alike were waving miniature campaign flags.

“Residents, please welcome Daw Phyu Phyu Thin, the NLD candidate for Mingalar Taung Nyunt Township,” bellowed a party cheerleader standing beneath a large campaign billboard for the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). A big cheer roared out.

“Please welcome every campaign movement from any party, but in your heart you already know which one to vote for, don’t you?” asked Phyu Phyu Thin to a gathering crowd in front of the NLD office. “I’m your servant but we won’t do good for any individual or party. We will do our best for the interests of the people.”

On April 1, the NLD will compete with other four parties, including the USDP, in the township. Residents have revealed that the USDP have also been campaigning while the Democratic Party (Myanmar), the New National Democracy Party and the Myanmar National Congress have kept a low profile.

“When the USDP is on the campaign trail, people are just onlookers. I’ve rarely heard any cheer from them,” said a middle-aged man living in the constituency. “Not even a clap!” a roadside vendor chimed in.

In Mandalay, the second largest city in upper Burma, Tin Tin Myo made up her mind shortly after she learned that her name was nowhere to be found on the voter list that was updated by the District Election Commission this month.

“I will stage a demonstration on April 1 in front the polling station in my quarter. I will hold a placard that will read ‘my right to vote ‘yes’ to the NLD has been denied,'” said she in a telephone interview.

The 43-year-old is now living in Maha Aung Myae Township, a constituency where Ohn Kyaing of the NLD will stand in the looming by-elections. When she complained about the absence of her name on the list to the local election authorities, they replied it was “too late.”

Ohn Kyaing said that despite the commission extending the deadline to fix the list until March 24, some eligible voters have still missed out. “The deadline is over. There’s nothing we can do,” he said.

“I feel very sad,” said Tin Tin Myo. She revealed that she was not able to cast her ballot in the 1990 election, the country’s first poll in 30 years, as she was not a permanent resident in the area she lived at that time.

She said she was not afraid of government intimidation for her protest on election day as she would not be doing anything against the law.

“I will just simply express the fact that I was excluded from voting,” she said. “I had great expectations of casting my vote in this election. It’s not for me, it’s for my country.”