EU, US observers prepare for Burma’s elections

EU, US observers prepare for Burma’s elections

The European Union (EU) on Friday signed an agreement with Burma to conduct a full Election Observation Mission during the general election in November. Both parties agreed that the EU would provide more than 100 observers across the country, which will have close to 50,000 polling stations catering for nearly 30 million voters in 325 townships nationwide.

In a statement on 21 August, EU Ambassador Roland Kobia said, “The Observation Mission that the EU is sending is part of a much broader picture of our continuous engagement with Myanmar. Our enhanced cooperation is aimed at underpinning the country’s political transition and reform process. Election observation is an expression of the EU’s wish to support inclusive, transparent and credible elections as part of our policy to strengthen democracy, the rule of law and human rights.”

A second international organisation, the Carter Center, a foundation headed by former US President Jimmy Carter, has also been invited to observe the elections. They officially started their election observations 1 August, and during the election will have around 40 observers and experts working in Burma. However, their staff have been conducting field trips across Burma since March.

Despite two international organisations observing the election process, Frederick Rawski, field director in the Rangoon office of the Carter Centre, told DVB the largest part of the observation will be done by local observers.

“The international observer presence in Myanmar will be relatively small, and the burden of observation will fall primarily on the shoulders of national observer organizations and political party agents.  The Carter Center coordinates closely with national observer organizations, and supports their efforts whenever possible.  Although we are all working for the same objectives – a fair, transparent and inclusive election, it is important to understand that national and international observer missions are independent of one another – and they may draw different conclusions about the aspects of the election process that they observe,” Rawski said.

The two international organisations will each make their own conclusions on the elections.

“The Carter Center will coordinate closely with the EU mission, as it does in many countries around the world.  However, the two missions are completely independent of one another.  The Carter Center’s conclusions will be based on the findings of its own observer teams,” says Rawski.

In a report published this week, the Carter Center published advice and recommendations to all parties for the upcoming election. Although they complimented the UEC on their work during the pre-election process, they outlined a number of challenges – improving transparency, issuing electoral procedures, and addressing voting rights were among the issues the Carter Center recommended for improvement.

“One concern of our most recent report is that, with very little time left before the election, there remains key aspects of the process that need clarification – such as procedures for advance voting, voting by internally displaced persons, and specific polling, counting and tabulation procedures. We hope that the election commission will clarify these procedures soon, and make them public,”

The Carter Center expressed concerns over the Burmese government’s request that they submit detailed plans for observation prior to election day, 8 November. Rawski says: “both international and national observer organizations need to be able to move freely and to have the flexibility to deploy observers at the last minute to different locations. We have some concern that the current requirements for a detailed observation plan could create obstacles for observer organizations to do their work effectively.  The UEC has assured The Carter Center that these requirements are not intended to obstruct the work of observers.  The Carter Center has submitted its accreditation application to the UEC and is awaiting approval.”

Another concern, the US-based foundation said, is a lack of information on advanced voting, which is perceived as the area where most cases of fraud occurred during the 2010 polls, especially with regards to the balloting of military personnel.

The Carter Center urged Burma’s election commission to improve its outreach to political parties and voters, by providing better information on electoral procedures and voter registration. They also called on the Burmese authorities to finalise all decisions related to the election as soon as possible.

Furthermore, the government is urged to ensure that the cancellation of temporary citizenship cards (particularly in regard to the Rohingya minority) should not result in disenfranchisement for previously eligible voters, and make sure there is little as possible disenfranchisement, especially amongst ethnic and religious minorities.

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The Carter Center has sent observers to more than 100 elections around the world. Its founder, Jimmy Carter, is a renowned human rights and peace advocate, though he has recently been stricken with cancer. He visited Burma in 2013, when he met with a number of officials, including President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi. While Suu Kyi was in house arrest, he publicly urged the then-ruling military junta to release her on several occasions.

Read more on DVB´s coverage of the Carter Center in Burma here.

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