Think tank warns of election strife

Think tank warns of election strife

Burma’s upcoming elections may bring violence and other security challenges, warns a Belgium-based NGO.

The International Crisis Group said in its 28 April report, ‘Myanmar’s Electoral Landscape’, that the security challenges seen in the 2010 general election and 2012 by-elections are likely to persist in the upcoming national polls slated for November of this year.

The Union Election Commission (UEC) in 2010 cancelled ballots in 32 townships across the country, including: twelve townships in Shan State, including those in the Wa and Mongla self-administrated regions; nine townships in Kachin State; seven townships in Karen State, and two townships each in Mon and Karenni states, totalling over 300 village tracts.

It is unlikely that elections will take place in northern Shan and Kachin states due to ongoing clashes between government forces and ethnic armed groups, according to ICG, though hope is expressed that the potential finalising of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in June may see a reduction in hostilities.

The report warns of possible tensions and violence in constituencies with mixed ethnic constituencies such as Shan-Pa-o and Shan-Kachin constituencies, where the proportions are nearly 50-50, and also between different parties of same ethnicity, especially those with ties to armed groups.

The ICG said it is “not inconceivable that an armed group may choose election day for attacks with no electoral agenda, so as to get the maximum publicity and to damage the government politically,” using the example of the conflict involving the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army in Karen State’s Myawaddy border town.

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The report praises the UEC for bringing about changes in the law to effectively prevent exploitation of advance votes, saying, “New bylaws have been adopted that contain significant improvements. Most importantly, the rules on advanced voting have changed. There is now provision in some cases for these procedures to be observed by candidates, their representatives and polling station agents (in a way that does not compromise the secret ballot).”

However, information needs to be provided to members of the public and the government about democratic processes, according to the think tank. “Irregularities are likely, and even with strong will, the capacity of the commission and local sub-commissions could be severely stretched. There is little experience of democratic elections among the administration and the electorate and a low level of knowledge, a particular issue given the complexity of the electoral laws, which require the collaboration of several government entities. Voter education will be critical,” it said.

The report argues that the military could accept a large victory by the opposition National League for Democracy party, provided that Aung San Suu Kyi remains barred from the presidency and a compromise candidate – potentially a reformist member of the old regime – is selected.

Meanwhile, the Burmese police are providing its members with election-related security training in preparation for the polls, said the Kachin State Election Commission’s Chairperson Nyunt Shwe.

“Security measures at regional and township levels have been discussed and prepared by the Myanmar Police Force for periods before, during and after the elections. This includes aspects such as security at polling stations, for transporting the votes, and to ensure that voters can go peacefully to the polls,” said Nyunt Shwe.

The regional commission are hoping for positive developments in the ongoing peace process, he added, which would allow the elections to take place in constituencies that were omitted in the previous elections

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