Feature Story

Myanmar election observers witness large voter turnout 

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More than 11,000 domestic observers and 1,000 international observers were accredited to observe the general elections of 8 November in Myanmar. Among these numbers were 19 ASEAN representatives from electoral management bodies (EMBs) from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Timor-Leste as well as three representatives from the ASEAN secretariat.

The group began observation in the capital Nay Pyi Taw two days ahead of the election, which included briefings with UEC Chairman U Tin Aye and commissioners.

For election day observation, they divided into two groups, starting from both Nay Pyi Taw (Union Territory) and Mandalay Region. Both groups ended by observing the counting process together with party agents and other observers. The group was invited by the Union Election Commission (UEC) with support from International IDEA.

The following morning, the ASEAN delegation presented its oral report to the UEC Chairman U Tin Aye, congratulating the commission on the work of polling officials and in holding a smooth and peaceful election. The delegation noted the overall positive and calm environment and high voter turnout but suggested areas of future improvements. This included measures to assist the elderly and people with disabilities to navigate long queues, having ballots in different colours so all three could be distributed at once rather than queuing three times and continuing engagement and dialogue between ASEAN countries through exchange programs between electoral specialists of the ASEAN EMBs.

“In certain polling stations, it was a very long queue. The spirit of Myanmar people in using their right to vote was shown in their queuing at the polling station as early as four o’ clock in the morning,” said Datuk Ser Mohd Hashim bin Abdullah, Deputy Chairman of Election Commission of Malaysia.

“They obeyed the rules and the laws and it was very simple for the officials to take care of them and organize the process. For me, for Malaysian delegation, we feel that this is how we should handle the people to come out early and vote to choose their government and to practice their right to choose the government.”

Member of Parliament and Vice Chairperson of Women Parliamentarians Caucus of Lao PDR Thatsadaphone Sengsoulyya, also noted that the observation mission was successful:

“We saw eligible voters come to vote in the polling station. Women, men, elderly and people with disabilities […] the turnout is expected at 70 per cent but the Township Election Commission chairman told us that he expected more than 80 per cent turn out in Meikthila”

Durudee Sirichanya of the ASEAN Secretariat concurred:

“ASEAN Secretariat is delighted to be back in Myanmar for the second time as special observers since 2012. As I recalled, the Secretary General of ASEAN, Dr Surin Pitsuwan, visited the President of Myanmar and suggested that Myanmar should open to ASEAN observers for the by-elections. Myanmar went above and beyond that suggestion and opened the election observation to ASEAN and international observers as well.”

“From our experience last time in Myanmar, we have seen the progress. At that time, there was not a lot of television. But this time, a lot of people answered that they heard about the election over a month ago from TV, mobile phones and some even had polling officers come knocking on their door with flyers and pamphlets.”

Developing skills through peer-to-peer exchange

International IDEA Myanmar has been working with the UEC since 2013 providing technical electoral assistance. This assistance includes peer-to-peer visits between representatives from regional EMBs and, in particular, from ASEAN countries. These visits build on International IDEA’s previous trainings in helping UEC to develop and enforce an election observation process that conforms to best regional practices.

These visits also foster regional relationships and trust between EMBs while strengthening election management and observation accreditation best suited to the regional environment.

The way to inclusion and transparency

A first exchange of commissioners and election officials from Myanmar to Indonesia started in July 2014 during Indonesian presidential elections. In this trip, UEC commissioners and election officials met with peers from Indonesia’s election management body, Komisi Pemilihan Umum (KPU), domestic observers and political party representatives. This visit allowed continuing work with the UEC on drafting regulations for the observation of the 2015 Myanmar general elections. It also enabled the UEC representatives to witness the presence and work of domestic and international observers and came to appreciate the value of election observation.

In October 2014 Commissioner Hadar Gumay of KPU, visited Myanmar to engage further on election observation regulations and assist with stakeholder engagement between the UEC and CSOs in this area

The ASEAN Election Observation workshop was hosted this year in Manila, the Philippines. The workshop provided an opportunity for election officials and foreign service officials from ASEAN Member States to understand how election observation is conducted in other regions, like the Americas, Africa and Europe. International IDEA supported representatives from the UEC, UEC sub-commissions and Ministry of Foreign Affairs ASEAN Department to attend the workshop.

These interactions between the UEC and ASEAN EMBs on domestic and international observation paved the way to invite international and domestic organizations to officially observe the electoral process for increased inclusion and transparency.

About the Author

FORMER Programme Officer
Sophia Fernandes

Fernandes implemented the European Union-funded STEP Democracy electoral assistance package in Myanmar while with International IDEA. She oversaw reporting, monitoring & evaluation, coordination and joint representation of all eight partners involved in the project (four international and four national). She also managed International IDEA Myanmar’s research programme, including producing and reviewing content on electoral and legal reform issues, parliamentary assistance and constitution-building.