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Irregularities Tarnish the Credibility of Upcoming By-Elections

By Burma Partnership  •  March 12, 2012

“The Special Rapporteur is concerned at continuing allegations of campaign irregularities and attemps to limit campaign activities,” stated Tomás Ojea Quintana in his report to the United Nations Human Rights Council released on Friday. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma further stressed that “the credibility of the elections will not be determined solely on the day of the vote, but on the basis of the entire process leading up and following election day.”

This report comes at the same time as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been alerting the Union Election Commission and the international community about the obstacles and restrictions that the NLD is facing on the campaign trail. Speaking after a meeting with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird on Thursday, Daw Suu said that official voter lists for next month’s by-elections include dead people and open the possibility for fraud.

At the begining of the week, Daw Suu took her campaign to Naypiydaw where residents of Aung Chan Tha village reported that local authorities threatened them to strike them off a list of households awaiting electricity if they were to go to the NLD rally. Moreover, Min Thu, the local NLD contestant, said that people from surrounding villages travelling to hear her speak were diverted towards other locations. Daw Suu was also unable to get permission to use a football field and instead held her rallies on the capital’s outskirts, 15 miles from where most civil servants live. This is not the first time that she has been facing restrictions on using public venues since she started her campaign. She was denied stadium access in Mandalay and this week the Mon State Election Commission refused her permission to hold a rally at Than Lwin Garden in Moulmein. In addition, authorities demanded twice that students sit exams on the same days that Daw Suu was due to visit. On an even more worrying note, the motorcade carrying her and party colleagues was hit with stones on Tuesday on the highway between Naypiydaw and Rangoon, injuring two bodyguards. Furthermore, on Thursday, a paragraph from her official campaign speech about the lack of rule of law in Burma, to be broadcast over state-run Myanmar Radio and TV, was censored by authorities.

“Using such despicable means against our party tarnishes the image of the country, and it is very bad to use unfair and ignoble means of campaigning,” said Daw Suu in Naypyidaw. On Tuesday, during a trip to Taungoo in Pegu Division, she also warned authorities that the country stands to lose if election campaigning is not carried out in a free and fair manner and further complained that NLD billboards and signs were destroyed.

As many of these irregularities also took place during the last 2010 elections and the regime’s handpicked Union Election Commission did not adequately address any of these cases then, the international community should be very cautious. As Daw Suu said during her meeting with the Canadian Foreign Minister, the international community must watch closely how this by-elections proceeds and how the Union Election Commission deals with these irregularities and complaints before determining their policy with regard to the sanctions.

As the Special Rapporteur notes at the begining of his report, “The upcoming by-elections on 1 April 2012 will be a key test of how far the Government has progressed in its reform process. There is, however, a risk of backtracking on the progress achieved to date.”

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