Myanmar Party Poll Monitors Complain of Election Law Violations During Early Voting

By NYEIN NYEIN 2 November 2020

Disputes and complaints relating to the actions of election sub-commission members and polling station representatives during the early voting period, which commenced on Oct. 29 ahead of the Nov. 8 election, have emerged in several areas in Kachin State and Magwe, Ayeyarwady and Yangon regions.

In this election, early voting for the over-60s and those who are outside of their constituencies is being held from Oct. 29 to Nov. 5 as part of the Union Election Commission (UEC)’s efforts to ensure each voter can cast their ballot safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the 2015 general election, the early voting period was only two days long, as social distancing rules and health guidelines were not a concern.

Most of the complaints have come from political party representatives assigned to polling booths to monitor voting. The complaints, which concern disputes and accusations of election law and other violations, are under investigation at the respective sub-electoral commissions.

In Kachin State’s Waingmaw Township, a complaint was filed against U Than Htay, a polling station representative from the National League for Democracy (NLD), who reportedly removed the tape covering a ballot box containing advance votes without waiting for other officials to be present on the morning of Oct. 30.

U Yi Myint, the chairman of Waingmaw’s No. 4 ward election sub-commission, acted as a plaintiff and opened the case under Article 59(e) of the election law at Waingmaw Myoma Police Station. The law states that anyone found guilty of opening a ballot box without authorization or destroying ballots or advance ballots shall face punishment of up to one year’s imprisonment, a fine of no more than 100,000 kyats (about US$77.50), or both.

U Nawli, aka Za Hkaung Kham Yal, Kachin State’s municipal minister who is also the state parliamentarian for Waingmaw Township and seeking re-election for the same post, said U Than Htay was overanxious and did not intend for it to happen.

“He did it with honest intent and we have no intention of acting dishonestly. We strictly told our polling station representatives to follow the rules and guidelines and to be more careful,” he said.

In a separate incident, the village electoral commission chairman and four members were temporarily suspended in Kyun Yin Village of Pauk Township in Magwe Region, following calls on Oct. 29 that officials examine 40 advance ballots that the village commission members helped elderly voters to stamp.  The parties’ representatives at Kyun Yin Village polling station claimed the village electoral commissioners stamped ballots for the voters without the latter’s knowledge.

U Win Sein, the chairman of the Pakokkhu district electoral commission (which includes Pauk Township), told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the commissioners involved have been temporarily suspended and that others have replaced them so that collection of advance ballots can continue.

He added that the commissioners did not violate the election law, which states that the commissioners or the head of the polling booth should help elders and disabled people if one of their family members or relatives does not accompany them when they come to vote.

He added that the 40 ballots are considered as disqualified for the time being, and they have reported the issue to the Magwe regional election sub-commission for a decision. They expected the 40 voters involved to be given the right to vote again on Tuesday.

Other minor disputes have been resolved by the respective election sub-commissions. One new problem that has arisen for the first time this year, however, is the use of fake stamps.

In Ayeyarwaddy Region’s Pathein Township, a couple of voters used fake stamp that did not have UEC marks to cast their ballots on Oct. 31. They had their own stamps with them, but as the ward electoral commissioners noticed the stamps, their ballots were sealed and they were given a chance to vote again, said U Ngwe Soe, the chairman of the Pathein Township electoral commission.

“It is a question of where they got the fake stamps. We reported the incident to the district commission and are awaiting a decision, but they are violating the election law by being in possession of fake stamps,” said the chairman.

A day before, a similar incident happened in Yangon’s Hlegu Township. A polling station representative for the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party provided a fake stamp to replace a faulty UEC-approved stamp and four ballots were considered rejected on Oct. 30.

U Thein Tan, the current Lower House lawmaker for Hlegu who is seeking re-election for the same post, said the NLD’s polling station representatives noticed the fake stamp, as it did not include a UEC symbol.

On Monday, the township sub-electoral commission enquired about the incident, said U Thein Tan. He also made a complaint to the UEC but said that sending complaints through the postal service was slow as Myanmar observed a holiday on Monday.

The rejected ballots were sealed and are being kept in a safe place, said the candidates and the commissioners.

Among other complaints raised by the USDP are the displaying of party logos and the wearing of clothes bearing party logos inside polling stations. The military-backed party accused the ruling NLD candidates and its polling station representatives of breaking the election law in more than 30 complaints in Yangon, Magwe, Sagaing, Ayeyarwady and Bago regions and Shan state.

In some of Yangon’s townships, cases included hand-gel bottles with People’s Pioneer Party logos being placed in polling stations and campaigning by the USDP in a community where a mobile ballot box truck was collecting advance ballots from seniors, according to observers.

U Aung Myo Min, a volunteer observer (who does not have UEC accreditation) and a long-time human rights advocate in Yangon, said that in some mobile polling stations, the advance ballots were collected with plastic bags. This raised concern among voters as to whether their votes would be subject to fraud.

“It causes mistrust of the commissioners, as the ballots were not put inside the box, but taken in plastic bags,” said U Aung Myo Min, who observed voting in five Yangon townships—Thingangyun, Mayangone, Yan Kin, Dagon Seik Kan and Tamwe—for five days.

He added that the problems stem from weak and delayed instructions from the UEC, a lack of capacity on the part of some polling station staff and a lack of understanding on how to cast ballots.

“If these concerns are not solved in time, it will have consequences, because even if the candidates win, they might face doubts as to whether their votes are genuine or fraudulent.”

Fewer observers are able to monitor voting this year compared to the previous election, partly due to COVID-19.

Sai Ye Kyaw Swar Myint, the director of the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections (PACE), the biggest domestic election observer group, whose members’ accreditations were issued late by the UEC, said they had not yet been able to observe early voting, but would begin on Tuesday.