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International observers admit they are muzzled

Independent election observers who will monitor Burma’s general election on Sunday acknowledge their ability to criticise the government is limited, but despite the curbs hold out hope the elections will go smoothly.

The European Union, the Carter Centre, the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), and the International Republican Institute have deployed election monitors nationwide ahead of the poll.

Damaso G. Magbual, ANFREL’s chairman, said he appreciated that Burma has organised the election, the first democratic poll after a decades-long pause.

“Our methodology remains the same but there are more challenges as we can’t criticise the role of the military in the election. So there are more restrictions,” Magbual said from Rangoon, now officially known as Yangon.

About 20 people have been deployed since 12 October and another 27 short-term observers including three people from Thailand will start today to observe the final week of the pre-election period and election day on Sunday, he said.

The observer’s remarks come as a UN rights expert warned recently of turmoil in Burma if the elections fall short of expectations for a credible vote.

The vote is seen as the freest in decades as Burma moves away from military rule, but Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur for Myanmar, has raised a long list of concerns.

Dozens of candidates have been disqualified, hundreds of thousands of people who had cast ballots in previous polls have been disenfranchised, freedom of assembly is being curtailed and there is widespread intimidation, said Lee.

“The period after the elections — prior to the elections for a new president and the formation of a new government — may see instability and tension if the election outcomes are not widely accepted as credible and legitimate,” Lee said.


In Rangoon, ANFREL’s Magbual says the group’s observers keeping an eye on Sunday’s poll have been recruited from independent civil society groups that make up its network and from other organisations in Asia, the United States and Europe.

The group’s observation methodology is tailored to comply with the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation adopted by international organisations including the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division, he said.

ANFREL says it is also guided by the principles that inspired the Bangkok Declaration on Free and Fair Elections and the Indicators on Free and Fair elections endorsed at the Asian Stakeholder Electoral Forum in Dili, Timor-Leste, in March this year.

“During this crucial last week, we hope our observers find an atmosphere that is peaceful and free with inclusive elections that provide fair opportunities to all those competing,” Magbual said.

ANFREL hopes recent reports of violence, threats and intimidation are isolated incidents that do not occur again, he said.

The parties and candidates taking part had agreed on a code of conduct in the hope of keeping the poll clean.

His group also hopes the media and others involved are able to speak out relatively freely and without fear of arrest or harassment.

Protecting advance voting against the type of fraud alleged at the last general election in 2010 will be an important part of ANFREL’s job, it said.

The observer group also said it hoped election officials will resolve any problems of voter registration to reduce the chance of disenfranchisement, increase the election’s credibility, and protect the sanctity of the ballot.

This article was republished courtesy of the Bangkok Post.


Read more of DVB’s coverage of the 2015 general election



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