EU observers fan out ahead of election

Observers from the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) departed Rangoon, Burma on Sunday to travel to various destinations across the country ahead of the general election next month.

Deputy Chief observer, Mark Stevens explained what the team would be doing.

“The observers will be following the work of the Election Commissions to see if they’re prepared for the election, the training of the election polling officials, then they will be following the election campaign. So they’ll be meeting with political parties to see how their campaign is going. They’ll be following the messages of the campaign. They will be following whether political parties have freedom of assembly, freedom of movement and freedom of expression,” he said.

An EU EOM statement said this was a second group of observers, made up of 30 people, to be deployed across the country. The first team arrived in Burma on 26 September.

The group was expected to travel across 14 states and divisions in Burma, and operate for around five to six weeks, the statement added.

Stevens said every area of the country was critical.

“Every area is critical. The important thing is people in Burma have a right to vote and the right to vote freely, and will vote secretly in the election day. The political parties will be campaigning in all the region and states. We don’t place any more emphasis on one area than another. We try to cover the entire country to get a general coverage of the big picture,” he said.

Foreign observers were not allowed in the 2010 general elections that ushered in Burma’s first semi-civilian government after almost half a century of military rule. Only observers from Southeast Asian nations were invited to the 2012 by-elections, which brought democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.

The November election will see the military-backed ruling party and the National League for Democracy (NLD) party of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi campaigning for their seats.

The NLD is expected to do well in the election, billed as the country’s first free and fair contest in 25 years, but Burma’s military-drafted constitution blocks Suu Kyi from becoming president because her late husband and two sons are not Burma citizens.

One resident said she didn’t have hopes for the election and that the most important thing was her ability to work.

“I don’t have any hopes, as long as I have a job, I can earn money and I can eat. That is enough. I am only interested in my living,” 38 year-old Yin Yin Aye, Rangoon resident said.

“If the result is a surprise there is nothing we can possibly do. We only wish for the best thing to happen but if not, that is our destiny,” 35 year-old Ma Moe from Rangoon said.

Current President Thein Sein, 70, decided not to run for a parliamentary seat due to his ailing health, but he is eligible for a second term as president, which he says would depend on the “wishes of the people”.

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Thein Sein may not have the charisma of the wildly popular opposition leader Suu Kyi, but his reforms and backing from a powerful military that gets a quarter of seats in the parliament means a second term is a possibility, via a post-election parliamentary vote.

In Burma, the president is chosen from three candidates nominated by the two houses of parliament and the military, which holds a quarter of the seats in the bicameral chamber. The president then forms the government.

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