NAYPYIDAW — Burma’s Union Election Commission (UEC) is to conduct a “door-to-door” update of the voter list in 19 constituencies where by-elections will be held on April 1.
U Hla Thein, the chairperson of the UEC appointed by the National League for Democracy government in April, spoke to representatives of 67 political parties at the UEC headquarters in Naypyidaw on Monday.
“We will go door-to-door and check with heads of households whether any amendments need to be made. If anyone is found to be absent from the voter list, we will add him or her with the approval [of household heads],” he said.
A countrywide voter list was prepared from scratch, using individual household lists stored in ward and village tract government officers, starting in early 2015, in preparation for the general election held in November that year.
The voter list, when displayed for public scrutiny at various stages in the run-up to the 2015 election, attracted substantial criticism for its errors and omissions, but—after corrections were made—the list did not cause significant problems on polling day.
The UEC announced on Oct. 11 that by-elections would be held to fill 18 vacant seats—both in the Union Parliament and in state and divisional legislatures—for constituencies in Rangoon, Sagaing and Pegu divisions, and Shan, Karenni, Mon, Chin and Arakan states.
The seats were left open due to ministerial appointments, which require selected lawmakers to vacate their seats, two deaths, and the cancelation of constituencies due to armed conflict during the 2015 election—in Kyethi (Kesi) and Mong Hsu townships of central Shan State.
An additional constituency, Nyaung Shwe-1 in the Shan State parliament, was added to the by-election roster after the death of the lawmaker last week.
Candidate names must be submitted between Nov. 28 and Dec. 7. After scrutiny, the UEC will announce the definitive candidate list on Jan. 2.
U Han Shwe, the vice chairperson of the National Unity Party, welcomed the door-to-door initiative, stressing that it must cover all villages, since voter list data had previously been collected at the village tract level.
U Kyaw Kyaw Htay, the secretary of the Union Solidarity and Development Party, Burma’s largest opposition party, promised that they would “collaborate to have a fair election.” He recommended some changes in polling procedure, such as marking ballots by pencil rather than using stamps, and displaying names on the updated voter list in family groupings, rather than alphabetically.
The decision to arrange voters’ names in alphabetical order during public display periods in wards and village tracts in the run-up to the 2015 election had caused confusion and annoyance to the public, since the absence of family names in Burma meant that members of the same family were found in disparate parts of the list.
However, the UEC chairperson responded that stamps would continue to be used in polling booths, and no other changes to the electoral process would be made.
Dr. Aye Maung, the chairperson of the Arakan National Party, who was present at the Naypyidaw meeting, told The Irrawaddy that he welcomed the release of the by-election schedule, and believed there was adequate time for candidate registration prior to Dec 7.
He confirmed his party would be contesting the Lower House seat of Ann Township, the only seat in Arakan State up for grabs in the by-elections.
He said most of the comments made by political party representatives in the Naypyidaw meeting related to the accuracy of the voter list—“making sure that those who are eligible are on the voter list, and enjoy their right to vote.”
Dr. Aye Maung pointed out that there was no mention of when the updated voter list would be put on public display at the local level, but expressed confidence that the UEC would ensure the accuracy of the list, and had sufficient time to do so.
During the meeting on Monday, political parties also requested that they have party representatives present when ward and village tract election sub-commissions go door-to-door with the voter list.
Additional reporting by Nyein Nyein.