‘The Time for Electoral Reform is Now’ Says the Carter Center

By Ben Dunant 16 August 2016

RANGOON — US-based non-governmental organization the Carter Center has stressed the need to get electoral reform efforts underway early on, if Burma is to have a “fully democratic parliament” after the next general election in 2020.

The Carter Center, founded by former US President Jimmy Carter, launched its final report on the 2015 general election at a press conference in Rangoon on Tuesday. The 80-page report includes recommendations and findings from its observation of the full electoral process, from the drawing up of voter lists to post-election dispute resolution.

Jonathan Stonestreet, an associate director at the Carter Center, said at the report launch, “The time to start thinking about electoral reform is now.”

He commented that, in countries in transition, electoral reform is easily “put on the back-burner” after the successful staging of an election, passed over in favor of reforms that appear more pressing—until the next election arrives and it is “too late.”

Proper adherence to international democratic standards would require changes to the military-drafted 2008 Constitution, says the Carter Center—for instance, “so that all members of at least one house of the Union parliament are elected by direct vote.”

The current 25 percent reservation in Parliament for military appointees should be “phased out,” says the report, which also recommends that Article 59(f), which barred Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president because her children hold foreign citizenship, be “reconsidered.”

The Carter Center also cites candidate eligibility as unduly restrictive. Under current laws, only “full” citizens can run for elected office; the many residents of Burma holding “naturalized” and “associate” forms of citizenship are barred.

The report touches on the large-scale exclusion of the Muslim Rohingya community in Arakan State, the majority of whom holding “temporary” forms of citizenship were barred from voting, despite being enfranchised in all previous elections.

The Carter Center recommends the amendment of Burma’s citizenship legislation in line with international standards: “The legal status of habitual residents of [Burma], especially former temporary registration certificate [“white card”] holders, should be resolved, and equal access to citizenship ensured through a timely, non-discriminatory, and transparent process.”

Stefan Krause, the Carter Center field office director in Burma, noted at the report launch that amendments to the constitution and election laws necessary for fully democratic elections could “take some time” and face political hurdles—but the Union Election Commission could take the initiative in reviewing its own by-laws and regulations.

Efforts from the commission could include improving the gender-balance and diversity of election sub-commissions—which exist at various administrative levels in the country and consist largely of current and former civil servants—and allotting them more resources to lessen their dependency on local government structures under the military-controlled Ministry of Home Affairs, the report says.

Other recommendations include updating the voter list at “regular intervals”; reforming the appointment system for the Union Election Commission—currently the prerogative of the President—to ensure impartiality and independence; curbing the unaccountable powers of the commission by making its decisions open to judicial appeal; and for Burma to sign and ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Carter Center has been present in Burma since October 2013, and deployed international observers across all states and divisions between December 2014 and March 2016. Since 1989, the organization has observed more than 100 elections in Asia, Africa and Latin America.