HRW calls for 'genuinely independent' electoral body

HRW calls for 'genuinely independent' electoral body

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday slammed Burma’s electoral body for “intimidating” the opposition National League of Democracy (NLD) party and called for reforms within the body to ensure that future elections will be free and fair.

After NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi made public comments last month challenging Burma’s military to “prove that they are in politics not because they crave power”, the Union Electoral Commission (UEC) issued a rebuke, warning her that her statements were unconstitutional and could put her party’s registration for this year’s by-elections in jeopardy.

The NLD responded by saying that Suu Kyi’s comments were in line with the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech.

“The electoral commission should immediately stop intimidating opposition parties and threatening free expression in Burma,” the New York-based rights organisation said in the statement.

Additionally, HRW is concerned about recent draft regulations proposed by the UEC chairman, former army general Tin Aye, which would restrict the original three-month campaign period for political parties to 30 days. Another draft regulation would also restrict party members from campaigning on a candidate’s behalf.

Tin Aye also defended in April a constitutional provision that guarantees 25 percent of the parliamentary seats to military officers, said HRW.

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David Mathieson, a senior researcher on Burma for HRW, said that based on these statements, Tin Aye has demonstrated that he is pro-military, which would raise serious questions about the electoral body’s independence.

“I think it indicates that [Tin Aye] is looking to limit the participation of political parties in the election and ensure a victory for the pro-military government and the ruling party, the USDP [Union Solidarity and Development Party],” Mathieson said, adding that the government needs to ensure that an independent commission oversees all future elections.

“The first thing that the government needs is to construct and support a genuinely independent Union Electoral Commission,” Mathieson said. “It would raise serious concerns about the integrity of these elections if the body that is set up to ensure that they are free and fair does any kind of interruption or meddling.”

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