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US special envoy to Burma Derek Mitchell paid an official visit to Mandalay last Friday during a fact finding mission to ensure that April’s by-elections will be free and fair, amid reports that voting has been scrapped in 10 villages in Kachin state.
Mitchell’s delegation met with officials from the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Mandalay including the party’s election campaign coordinator. The delegation was investigating the current political situation prior to elections, said NLD official Myo Naing.
Two NLD by-election candidates, Dr Zaw Myint Maung and U Paul Khin, told the envoy that problems and unfair practices had been instituted prior to the elections.
“Dr Zaw Myint Maung explained [to Mitchell] about the problems regarding the voters list,” said Myo Naing. “They still haven’t finished copying the list as of [15 March]. And there were a lot of errors including [the existence of] duplicated names on the list and it would be difficult to deal with all these within the given time frame.”
The run up to the April by-elections have been marred with several reports of fraud, intimidation and foul play. Political parties and their candidates have complained several times during the past two weeks of government tampering amid reports of the existence of fraudulent voter lists.
After meeting with candidates and state election officials Mitchell stressed that only free and fair elections would be deemed acceptable during a press conference in Rangoon on 14 March.
“The delegation met with the Union Election Commission and [said they saw] positive signs in the body unlike back in 2010,” said Myo Naing. “However, there have been [inconsistences] with the election commission branches at the lower administrative levels.” said Myo Naing.
Dubious actions taken by state election bodies have already been reported in the country’s far north.
Select ballot stations in Kachin State’s Hpakant township have been closed by the state’s election body amid ‘security concerns’, reported a party candidate from the area.
Bauk Ja, Hpakant by-election candidate for National Democratic Force (NDF), said Kachin’s State Election Commission recently sent out an order to shut down ballot stations in about 10 villages in Hpakant.
She said the commission’s decision to close these poll stations due to security concerns is irrelevant. According to Bauk Ja, tens of thousands of locals’ right to vote in the constituency has been voided in the decision’s wake.
“There is nothing there [to worry about]. It seemed like they did this intentionally,” said Bauk Ja.“It is the government’s job to deal with instability, but that doesn’t justify taking away the people’s right to vote.”
The candidate said she would file a complaint with the government and the Union Election Commission (UEC) to investigate the matter.
Bauk Ja competed for the same seat in 2010, but lost to Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) candidate Ohn Myint, a former general. Ohn Myint was then appointed Minister of Cooperatives, leaving his vacant seat up for grabs during the by-election.
Bauk Ja initially contested his election victory with the UEC, but then went into hiding after a warrant was issued for her arrest.
There were several reports of polling states being closed in the 2010 general elections due to security concerns in the country’s ethnic regions, including Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon, and Shan states. The election was largely regarded as a sham and designed to cement the military’s continual rule over the country by international observers.
The US and the European Union have said free and fair by-elections will play a key role in deciding whether to remove the web of sanctions that have been placed on the country.
Additional reporting was contributed by Ko Htwe.