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Preliminary Statement: A well-run Election Day and Competitive Polls Mark Myanmar’s Critical 2015 Elections, with Key Legal Reforms and Procedural Improvements still Required

By European Union Election Observation Mission  •  November 10, 2015

Myanmar has embarked on a historic political reform process. The holding of competitive elections on 8 November 2015, contested by 91 parties and over 6,000 candidates, is an important milestone in the country’s democratic transition. On Election Day, EU observers reported that the voters of Myanmar turned out in large numbers and calmly cast their votes in a generally well-run polling process, with secrecy of the vote respected. The process for advance voting, though, was less well managed and lacked transparency. Now the critical results process is underway and it is important to ensure a high level of transparency and integrity throughout. The legal framework for these elections provides some of the conditions for a competitive process, but it also contains a number of shortcomings with regard to the conduct of genuine elections. Most notable is the fact that not all the seats in parliament are directly elected by the people. Parties were largely able to conduct their campaigns freely and peacefully, though some inflammatory references to religion and race did raise concern.

• On Election Day, observers reported very positively on the voting process in polling stations, with 95% rating the process as ‘good’ or ‘very good’. In the vast majority of cases, polling stations opened on time and were well prepared. Officials worked hard to administer the process, but procedurally some inconsistent practices and anomalies were noted. Most voters, in polling stations visited, found their names on the voter list, but in 7% of polling stations visited some absences on the list were observed. Voters were able to cast their vote in secret, and, after voting, ink was applied in virtually all cases observed. Domestic and international observers enjoyed access to the process and political party agents were present in the vast majority of the polling stations observed. For the vote count at the polling station, in places observed it was reported to have been conducted in a transparent manner.

Advance voting can help to ensure those working on Election Day do not lose their right to vote. There was, though, a lack of clear understanding on behalf of electoral officials as to who was allowed to vote in-constituency in advance for these polls, resulting in some inconsistencies, and also in a lack of adequate safeguards for materials. In addition, out-of-constituency advance voting also lacked adequate safeguards and transparency. Observers were denied the right to observe out-of-constituency voting in military barracks.

• The legal framework provides some of the conditions for competitive elections, including freedom of association for parties, allowing independent candidates and a reasonable deposit mechanism for candidacy. However, the framework does not fully provide for the conduct of genuine elections, with limitations concerning the number of seats directly elected to the parliament, the right to vote and the right to stand, as well as an inadequate framework for the resolution of election disputes.

• The UEC administered the polls in challenging circumstances. It made a major effort to train some half-a-million staff and reach out to election stakeholders. The UEC also accredited hundreds of international observers and some 12,000 domestic observers. However, election administration at various levels lacked consistency and transparency.

• The UEC created a computerised voter list for the first time. It is an improvement on previous lists, and should be built on in the future, as some deficiencies were apparent.

• In terms of the right to vote, a person must be a citizen of Myanmar and the Citizenship Act of 1982 establishes requirements to prove citizenship which impose burdens that are very difficult to meet for many, and as a result universal suffrage was not properly provided for, and the elections were not as inclusive as they could have been.

• The elections were competitive, including over 6,000 candidates. The qualifications to run as a candidate, though, imposed unreasonable limitations on the right to stand, notably with regard to citizenship and residency criteria. The management of appeals during candidate nomination lacked transparency, and some decisions appeared to be arbitrary, with a notable percentage of Muslim candidates being rejected. Myanmar has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, but there are currently no special measures, and no real initiative by political parties, to promote women’s participation.

• The election campaign was largely calm with parties able to hold rallies and public meetings, despite some isolated incidents. Electoral officials generally implemented the regulations on organising events without undue rigour. The campaign regulations impose some limitations on freedom of expression by excluding certain topics from criticism. The provocative Buddhist nationalist discourse invoked by some parties, as well as by Ma Ba Tha, raised concerns during the campaign. The use of religion in politics is prohibited by campaign regulations and the Constitution.

• The media has seen dramatic changes since 2011, with pre-publication censorship abolished and a noticeable increase in the use of social media. At the same time, television and radio remain largely controlled by the state. Further, interlocutors cited restrictions on freedom of expression due to a restrictive legal framework and widespread self-censorship on topics such as the military, Buddhist nationalism and the plight of the Muslim population. Criminal cases have been brought against several social media users. During the campaign, state-funded media largely ignored the political contestants, focusing instead almost entirely on activities of the UEC, and of the ruling authorities, particularly the President. Private, foreign and social media dedicated significant coverage to the election, with a number of them showing a visible preference towards the NLD.

Download the full statement in English here.

သေဘာထားေၾကညာခ်က္ ျမန္မာဘာသာကို ဤေနရာတြင္ ေဒါင္းလုပ္ရယူႏိုင္ပါသည္။

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This post is in: 2015 Burma Elections, Press Release

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