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Tackling foul play in the April by-elections will be at the top of the list of priorities for Burma’s government-backed election body, which yesterday met with 17 parties who will be vying for seats in parliament.
Tin Aye, a senior official in the Union Election Commission (UEC), reportedly conceded during the meetings that the November 2010 vote had been flawed – something long highlighted by campaigners but which the government has yet to acknowledge.
“He didn’t deny the incidents happened in the 2010 elections when parties mentioned about this [in their meeting],” said Kaung Myint Htut from the newly-registered Myanmar National Congress Party, who met with Tin Aye yesterday.
“He said polls for all parliaments … were held on the same day so there was insufficient time and many flaws, and misunderstandings that created loopholes. He assured us that [the UEC would] try its hardest to prevent injustice in the by-elections.”
Parties are campaigning for 48 seats vacated when MPs took up positions in the cabinet shortly after the new government came to power. Already however there have been several accusations of attempted sabotage, including the bizarre incident in which universities in two towns – Pathein and Mandalay – demanded students sit exams with little notice on the same days that Aung San Suu Kyi was due to visit to rally support.
Tin Aye also reportedly laid out plans to tackle vote stealing and vote rigging in April. One of the key accusations of corruption that dogged the 2010 polls was the collection of advance votes – while the government was legally allowed to order advance votes from Burmese living abroad, or those who are unable to reach polling booths on the day, reports of widespread coercion of nationals prior to the day emerged.
Parties competing in April say they have requested that the government provide lists of the advance votes prior to the day.
“[Tin Aye] said parliament representatives will be allowed to get one copy each of the advance vote list free of charge and other people [outside the parliament] can get a copy for 200 kyat ($US0.20) with a form explaining why [they require a copy],” said Soe Win, chairman of the National Democratic Force.
Shwe Mann, the powerful parliamentary speaker and third-in-command in the former junta, has already pledged the April polls will be free and fair. He also told visiting EU official Andris Piebalgs this week that Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party would be welcome in parliament.
“We have established a parliament, taking the necessary actions for democracy to thrive in Myanmar [Burma]. The NLD and other parties, if they win in the by-elections, they can be in parliament. We will welcome them,” Reuters quoted him as telling Piebalgs.