Pre-election Fever

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With the 8 November 2015 General Elections around the corner, international pressure is building on Myanmar. Election campaigning begun almost two months ago where over 90 parties will contest in the November’s polls.
National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is constitutionally barred from running for the presidency, has called the world to scrutinise the elections and ensure the results are respected. Her party has pledged to deliver good governance if they win this year’s elections
Suu Kyi’s role in this campaign season has been a rather proactive one. In a video address posted on her Facebook page, “For the first time in decades our people will have a real chance of bringing about real change. This is a chance that we cannot afford to let slip.”
Highlighting concern the military might not respect a result that went against them, she added: “A smooth and tranquil transition is almost more important than a free and fair election.”
Civilian democracy
The road to democracy began in 2010 when the long-serving military junta made way for a nominally civilian government. A wave of reforms was ushered in by president U Thein Sein that led to the dropping of western sanctions. He even invited several non-governmental organisations to work towards a national reconciliation model. Experts have praised Myanmar from moving away from an authoritarian dictatorship into a civilian democracy.
However, the junta still retains a powerful and influential role in the country. Thein Sein’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) serves as a proxy party for the military.
The 2008 constitution grants the military at least 25% of parliamentary seats, be guaranteed one of the two vice-presidential slots and still have a say in key Cabinet positions. Even if the NLD and its allies win the upcoming polls, they will have to secure at least two-thirds of the remaining seats in order to choose the next president. The military is also guaranteed a veto over any constitutional amendments and its commander-in-chief will retain control key ministerial appointments.
Free and fair elections
When the Union Election Commission (UEC) announced that they will open November’s poll to international observers, international organisations grabbed the opportunity to deploy the presence of observers for all stages of the electoral process. The move was seen as the nation’s democratic transition and pledge to uphold free and fair elections. Army commander Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said “the military is committed to holding a free and fair election and will respect the results”.
Even the European Union (EU) has deployed Election Observation Mission (EOM) to observe the elections all across the country. The EOM Core Team of 9 EU election analysts arrived in Myanmar from 26 September and were joined by 30 long-term observers on 7 October and subsequently will be joined by 62 short-term observers on 2 November.
Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a Vice President of the European Parliament who was selected as Chief Observer said “the deployment of this Election Observation Mission confirms the European Union’s continued commitment to the democratic transition of Myanmar. Elections held in a peaceful and inclusive environment will help to consolidate irreversible reforms in the country.”
However international observers contend that many villages are beyond their purview and residents may end up obeying orders of pro-`military village chiefs. Suu Kyi has pointed out that voter lists contain “many, many errors”, including the names of deceased voters, omissions of current voters and incorrect birth dates that UEC has failed to correct. The UEC has blamed the errors on software issues and placed the burden upon voters to ensure their names and personal details appear correctly on the lists.

“We have informed the election commission many times to correct these errors, but they remain unchanged. If the commission doesn’t correct them until Election Day, we will give these lists to NLD representatives who will be at voting places, and they will reject those who show up claiming to vote under a name that shouldn’t be on the list,” said an NLD spokesman.
The UEC further dampened hope of reform last month by announcing that contesting parties and candidates are prohibited from criticising the ruling military during their allotted 15-minute speeches.
This election will largely been seen as an indication of where Myanmar is headed in its transformation from an authoritarian nation to a democratic model. About 32 million people of the 53 million populations will be eligible to vote. Suu Kyi’s request for the world to keep its eye on Myanmar post-elections hints at concerns on the credibility, transparency and inclusiveness of November’s elections.

Roshini Kapur
The writer, a graduate from the University of London is a members of UNAS. She is actively involved in the non-profit sector in Singapore. She has written for several publications such as The Diplomat, HRM Asia and India Se.

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