Announce the election date

Writer: 
Nay Htun Naing

(1)

The Union Election Commission (UEC) announced that the 2015 general election will be held in early November. But the exact date has not been set.

Concerns rise among politicians and observers if the election will be put off.

Although it seems all efforts move steadily towards the election, there are still no rigid confirmations and promises.

At the same time, the charter reform, ceasefire and political dialogue are still inconclusive.

The efforts for political stability before the election are not encouraging while the post-2015 political stability is uncertain.

(2)

Moreover, the cancellation of the 2014 by-election still has effects on the 2015 election.

Tin Aye, the chairman of UEC, said on March 20, 2014 that the by-election would be held in November or December.

But he, himself, said again on September 7 – two months prior to the expected time – that the by-election was cancelled.

Currently, the UEC has declared officially that the 2015 general election will be held in early November.

But that statement was released about six months ago – in October 2014. The exact date has not been mentioned.

On May 14, the UEC met civil society organisations (CSOs) in Yangon.

The UEC explained the compilation of basic voter lists, voting methods and early voting, which is heartening to some extent.   

But there are still problems. One major problem is that the exact date of the general election is not mentioned.

(3)

Look back to the 1990 general election, there was enough time for political parties to hold election campaigns.

The election was going to be held on May 27, 1990, and the election commission announced the date of the election six months earlier – on November 10, 1989.

The commission notified the parties of the candidate registration on January 3, 1990. The scrutinising period of the election candidates only took five days – from January 5-9.

The permission for campaigning was given on February 23, 1990 – three months prior to the election.

The 2010 election was declared on August 13 and held on November 7. The permission for campaigns was given on August 18 – 80 days before the election.

The 2012 by-election was held on April 1 and declared about three months earlier. The parties were allowed to canvass for more than 40 days, started on February 15.

(4)

The 1990 election gave more time for the election preparations than the later two, as it announced the date of election six months ahead while the other two, about three months.

About five months left before the election. According to the examples of 2010 and 2012 elections, the exact date is likely to be announced in July.

But the nearest comparison to the upcoming election is the 1990 election. It is up to the UEC whether or not it allows the 2015 general election to be held as the 1990 election.

The campaign period was 92 days in 1990; 80 in 2010, and 40 in 2012.

Election campaign, however, has more restrictions in 2015. It was said primarily that the campaign period would start from 30 days before the election. Since it was not sufficient, there were requests for extension.

The UEC gave verbal promise to extend the campaign period up to 60 days, but there is still no official statement on it.

The UEC described campaign rules in its Directive 1/2014 issued on July 1, 2014. According to the rules, parties can start campaigning from 30 days before the election. It was later followed by an argument between the UEC and political parties.

The exact dates for both the election and campaign period are not released for the time being and political parties are kept waiting.

Further, the compilation of the basic voter list is not complete yet.

(5)

In a meeting of the Union Election Commission (UEC) held in Yangon on May 14, chairman Tin Aye said 75 percent of the compilation of basic voter lists across the country had been completed.

He said the remaining lists will be announced on May 25 and June 8 and 22. The voter lists for 10 townships in Yangon Region were announced for 14 days beginning on March 30.

Some blunders were reported even in the first announcement. According to some official sources, more than 4,500 people applied for voter lists as their names were not on the lists announced; over 2,900 demanded amendments to their personal data; and over 1,200 complained that dead persons and ineligible voters were on the lists.

Such mistakes were found out as those people came to check the voter lists.  But more blunders could be found out if each and every citizen eligible to vote came to check.

NLD has called for amendments as about 40 percent of the facts and data were wrong in the initial announcement of basic voter lists.

Some CSOs formed to monitor the elections estimate that about 50 percent on average could be wrong.

For example, Pazundaung Township in Yangon has nearly 22,000 eligible voters but about 40 percent of them were reported to have checked the lists. According to calculations, only about 1,700 people came personally because they checked the lists on behalf of other family members of theirs. Again, many of them found out mistakes.

Such blunders and requirements in the basic voter lists pose a challenge to the complete nationwide voter list.

(6)

CSOs themselves have difficulty helping to ensure accurate voter lists. They could set a schedule as the exact election date is unknown. One problem is that they could not arrange time if they want to go door to door to get correct data.

A code of practice has been issued to the CSOs responsible for monitoring the elections but there are still arguments over the code of practice, which is another problem.

The election commission has announced that CSOs are to put up their applications for election monitoring 30 days ahead of the election day. The organisations however are demanding 15 days prior to the election day as they want to have more time for preparations. But the answer has yet to come out.

There will be more than 40,000 polling booths across the country for the general election this year. So much preparatory work has to be done for a complete monitoring process to cover all those voting booths.  

For the commission itself, it has yet to finish many things related to political parties as well as CSOs.

It is therefore necessary to announce the date of election.

(7)

It is true that the UEC still has many things to do. But it is also necessary to announce the election date as early as possible.

There are two major concerns over the delay of elections. The nationwide ceasefire agreement (CNA) and peace talks are the first concern.

In a meeting of eight ethnic Chin parties held in Yangon on May 15-16, the participants urged both the government and UEC not to postpone the election for reasons of peace talks.

The second point is constitutional amendment, which concerns the country’s political stability before and after the election.

UEC chairman Tin Aye said on May 14 that his commission could have difficulty holding a national referendum for constitutional change.

All the political organisations including NLD want to have the 2008 constitution amended. The important provisions must be amended only through a national referendum.

But the remark that holding a referendum during the election year is impossible implies giving only a choice between charter change and election this year.

Moreover, the second round of six-party talks for constitutional amendment could not have come and the first round did not yield any good results either.

In a public meeting in Mon State on May 16, Aung San Suu Kyi pointed out the delay of the six-party meeting, calling for frequent talks to ensure peace and stability before and after the election.

The government talked about the possibility of holding the second round of talks after May 11 but it has not happened yet.

(8)

The UEC has also guaranteed a free and fair election. Despite weaknesses in the compilation of basic voter lists, we can say it is on a right track but we have not reached a secure stage.

The authorities will change the voting system this year. Unlike in the previous elections, we do not need to tick on the ballot paper. Instead, we have to cast votes by using a laser stamp. According to the new system, numbers of discarded votes may be few. Yet the type of ballot paper and the type of ink are still unknown. There could be discarded votes if the types of paper and ink are poor in quality.

More transparency is likely in the issue of advance voting. But we have to wait and see.

Although the election process is assumed to be on a right track, political parties will face more difficulties if the election date announcement is delayed.

According to the election law, election date is to be announced beforehand. One weakness however is that exact date is not mentioned. The concerned authorities should not make any delays by taking opportunity of this.

In 1990 the election date was announced six months before. In 2010 and 2012 it was announced three months before. This year the election date should be announced more than three months before. The announcement should come in June, not July.

The forthcoming election is unlikely to be free and fair unless the election date is announced the next month and unless election campaign period is set for 60 days or more.

The earliest announcement of election date and adequate election campaign period will reflect the first step towards the sincerity of the election commission after the election.