Supporting Flood-Relief Efforts, Election Watchdog Worries for November Poll

By Moe Myint 19 August 2015

RANGOON — An election watchdog has found its member groups’ duties sidetracked by flood relief efforts as much of Burma continues to grapple with some of its worst flooding in decades.

The Election Education and Observation Partners (EEOP), a coalition of 24 local election monitoring organizations, announced last month that it would deploy representatives at polling stations in more than 100 townships across the country to monitor the general election on November 8.

Member groups, most of which will be first-time election observers, have also been raising awareness about the need to check voter lists ahead of the nationwide poll.

But EEOP representatives have found themselves cast in a different role in recent weeks, taking part in relief efforts to assist those affected by severe floods that the coalition fears may disrupt electoral preparations.

The People Union Network’s Lin Thu Aung, based in Magwe Division’s Pakkoku Township, said his group was tied up with assisting relief efforts and had been unable to perform its election-related duties.

Khaing Kaung San, the founder of Wunlark Development Association, an EEOP coalition group based in Sittwe, also told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday he feared his group would not be able to fulfill its electoral observation mandate while members were busy aiding flood victims.

“I think, if possible, the election date should be postponed for three months, as many citizens are in trouble,” he said.

Cho Mya Oo, joint secretary-2 of the Taunggyi chapter of Cherry Image, an EEOP member, was more cautious over suggestions of a postponement, questioning whether such a move would be beneficial.

“I think our group [Cherry Image]’s area will be fine, but Irrawaddy and Sagaing divisions, as well as Arakan State, may have many problems,” she said.

As of August 16, flooding had critically affected more than 1.5 million people across 12 states and divisions, according to government statistics, with 117 reported deaths.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation reported that since June, an estimated 1.43 million acres of farmland had been inundated, including more than 370,000 acres in Pegu Division and more than 273,000 acres in Arakan State.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, Kyi Min Thu of EEOP member the Public Welfare Network voiced concern over the ability of flood-affected persons to vote, since many had lost identity and household registration documentation.

Burma’s Union Election Commission attempted to assuage such concerns earlier this month, announcing that it would issue special “voter registration cards” to eligible voters who had lost national registration certificates around one week ahead of polling day.