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Over the last two months, I have travelled to many parts of this country, taking stock of the elections. I’ve been to Sagaing, to Mandalay, to Shan and Kachin. Earlier I was in Mon, Magwe and Bago [Pegu]. Everywhere I’ve met with political parties, with government officials, and with the Election Commission.
I’ve no doubt that this can be a historic election, the first credible election in many decades, but I do understand and share a good many of the concerns that have been expressed. In my travels, I’ve heard a lot of those concerns – whether the rules will be implemented fairly, and whether the authorities will accept the result.
As the UK, we’ve been supporting the elections in two ways. Along with the US, Australia and Switzerland, the UK has provided £2.7 million (US$4.15 million) to fund some of the leading international experts, IFES (International Foundation for Electoral Systems), to provide technical assistance to the Election Commission.
This has helped with the development of polling procedures, training of polling staff, and a framework for voter observation. We have contributed, through United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) to funding the provision of indelible ink. We are also providing £1.5m to provide advice and support to approximately 5,000 civil society domestic election observers, who will be part of the largest observation effort in Burma’s history. This will include the first ever systematic nationwide observation effort in Burma through the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections (PACE) as well as more specialist groups who will focus on youth, women and ethnic minorities.
One of the things that is different this year is that the government has welcomed international observation, and both the main international observer organisations and embassies have been spreading out across the country. We want to show that we are interested not only in what happens in Rangoon and in Mandalay but in the whole country. In an election, observers can’t guarantee that bad things don’t happen but they do make it harder for candidates to manipulate the result without being found out. There will also be British observers as part of the hundred-strong EU observer delegation.
Things can go wrong, however, well before the day of the vote. That is why we helped fund the Carter Center, whose long-term observers have been in the country since last November.
Organising a credible election for the first time in 50 years is not an easy task. While I know many government and UEC officials who are working hard to make this election a good one, we won’t know until election day how good this election will be.
Already it is clear that there are problems with the voters list. As we made clear at the time we deeply regret the exclusion of many thousands of Muslims in Rakhine [Arakan] State. More widely there have been difficulties in people’s ability to check the list, and many did not make the journey to do so. That will inevitably result in people on the day finding that they are excluded, and being disappointed.
For those on the list, we welcome the fact that the Election Commission has made clear that voters can use many different types of identity document when they get to the polling station– from National Registration Cards to driving licenses.
What I would urge is that whatever misgivings a voter may have about the election, it is still worth voting. If you don’t vote, you are losing any chance you may have to decide the future of the country.
We are not supporting any party in this election, we don’t have a vote. All I would say is that in a democracy it is not only the government and the political parties that have duties. Voters have a duty also – the duty to understand as best they can the debate between the different parties, and the different choices that are available.
Of course in every country voters tend to listen to the views of friends, family members, the media. Ultimately, however, it is their choice alone where they place their vote.
DVB interviewed Ambassador Andrew Patrick in 2014.