U Tin Aye and voter lists; let's solely tell about this to President

Writer: 
Nay Htun Naing
U Tin Aye and President U Thein Sein seen together at the meeting with political parties on May 18, 2015. (Photo-EMG)

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The National Unity Party (NUP) has called on the Union Election Commission (UEC) to ensure that the 2015 general election is not dishonorable like the 2010 election. Myanmar had bitter experiences of advance voting in the 1990 and 2010 elections, the NUP pointed out.

The request was made by U Han Shwe, CEC member of NUP during its press conference held on September 24.

He said the upcoming election needed to be free, fair and honourable. The honourable election means that it must be in line with the international norms and standards and acceptable by the international community. He also stressed the need to ensure the election completes peacefully and successfully.

On September 24 also, U Tin Oo, patron of the National League for Democracy (NLD), questioned if they were trying to win the election through invalid votes based on incorrect voter lists. He raised the question during a public speech in Thayet Township, Magway Region.

"Previously, they won the elections with advance voting. Now again, what will they do? Will they try to win it with invalid votes? I want to question whether they are attempting so asked U Tin Oo.

Speaking about election, voter lists, Election Day and election results are all important. Even in the pre-election period, voter list problems are having an impact on the political parties and voters.

Particularly, there is growing concern about election losses before competition comes. Meanwhile, UEC chairman U Tin Aye is acting irresponsibly and rebutting criticisms over severely incorrect voter lists.      

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U Tin Aye said he could guarantee that only 30 percent of basic voter lists were correct. It means that he will guarantee only 9.6 million out of 32 million eligible voters are on the voter lists. The remaining 20 million people will not have a chance to vote. This is an irresponsible act of a chairman of the country's election commission.

Again, U Tin Aye tried to say that the reason why he guarantees only 30 percent is that only those 30 percent people came to have their voter lists amended. He has acted irresponsibly by saying that his election commission is not responsible for incorrect voter lists and it is the responsibility of the voters themselves.

In an interview featured in the September 24 issue of 7 Day Journal, U Tin Aye said: "…it is wrong to say that the commission is responsible for this. There is no such responsibility in the world either."

He also quoted some words of Larry Jagan, an expert on Myanmar's affairs, to confirm what he has said is right.   

"You ask Larry Jagan. I have asked him. When asked who is the most responsible in the international arena also for ensuring that voters are on the lists to cast votes, he said the commission has no responsibility. It is the right of voters. It is the voters who have to ensure that they are on the lists," said U Tin Aye.

When I asked Larry Jagan if he really said so by email, he said it was not exactly what he had said.

"But it is not exactly what I said; it was the onus to check the data, and that the data was submitted by the voters first to the local authorities. The government sends voter registration cards when the list is finalised. The mess with the voter list is more complicated. That is down to the UEC. Where the first data came from, why the changes weren't made, what happened to their computer system. The one thing I also said was I didn't think they could do everything in time (and that was in June) ," said Larry Jagan in his email reply.

They admitted that the voter lists are filled with mistakes. But there are three points U Tin Aye and some commission members pointed out in an irresponsible manner.  

Firstly, they blame those voters for their failure to check the voter lists. Then they blame the incorrect procedures of regional election sub-commissions. Now, the UEC is sending frequent SMS warnings to mobile phone users to come and check the voter lists by spending a lot of money. We can say this is a good thing. But psychologically, they are trying to convince the voters that it is not the commission's responsibility to see mistakes in the voter lists and shortcomings in election.

The second point is that voters came and checked the voter lists and had them corrected. Some election sub-commissions also carried out their procedures correctly. But when the lists came out, the voter lists were incorrect again. They said it was due to print errors.

Thirdly, U Tin Aye himself said incorrect voter lists were due to a software programme.

"As we are technologically weak, we hired a company to compile voter lists. We even wanted to check our voter lists online. We did not use the old software and changed a new one. Then that happened so. I even did not know that the software had been changed," he said during a seminar on election and code of conduct held on September 25.

Actually, the UEC has been cooperating with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) formed with international experts since 2012.

Now, IFES has refused to meet the media and that casts doubts. Moreover, the reason why the voter lists are filled with mistakes is food for thought.

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U Tin Aye will have to take responsibility for correcting the voter lists. He cannot guarantee 30 percent only. He must make sure that at least 90 percent is correct. Only if he responsibly guarantee 90 percent correct, can we expect the possibility of a free and fair election.

The 1990 election was simple. The voters did not need to go and check their voter lists. They just went to polling stations on the Election Day. There were over 20 million eligible voters in the 1990 election. Out of them, more than 15 million people (72.59 percent) went to polling stations to vote. The number of invalid votes, lost votes and overlapping votes was just 12.3 percent.

In the 2010 election, there were 27.29 million eligible voters. What was strange was that over 29 million voters were set to vote for the lower house of parliament; over 28 million voters for the upper house; and 27.76 million voters for state and region parliaments. It was awful to see such differences. More people were on the voter lists.

When the election took place, more than 22.7 million people voted for the lower house, accounting for 77.69 percent of all the voters. The number of invalid and lost votes was 6.9 percent.

Over 21.68 million people voted for the upper house, accounting for 76.4 percent. The number of invalid and lost votes was 6.3 percent.   

More than 20.81 million people voted for regional parliaments, accounting for 74.99 percent. The number of invalid and lost votes was 7.2 percent. 

In the 2010 election, the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) got over 13.28 million votes for the lower house. The votes on Election Day were over 9.7 million and advance votes over 3.5 million. The party won the election only with 43.04 percent of all the voters but it tried to get 58.41 percent advance votes.

Similarly, USDP got over 16.26 million voters for the upper house, accounting for about 75 percent of all the voters. But it won more than 2.7 million advance votes that totaled over 18.9 million votes, accounting for 87.62 per cent of all the voters.

Over 4.6 million people voted in the 2012 by-election. However, only 2.8 million went to polling stations to vote. It accounted for 61.44 percent of all the voters. There were 3.6 percent advance votes and the number of invalid and lost votes was 9.11 percent.

For the upper house, over 1.4 million people voted. Nearly 940,000 people went to polling stations, accounting for 62.65 percent of all the voters. The number of invalid and lost votes was 9.11 percent and that of advance votes 3.6 percent.

There were 130,000 people voted for regional parliaments but only 70,000 went to polling booths, accounting for 56.26 percent. There were 3.7 percent advance votes and 10.91 percent invalid and lost votes.

Those figures were calculated based on all data available. Apart from the 2012 by-election, the average 75 per cent of the eligible voters went to the polls in general elections held in 1990 and 2010.

Thus, the estimated 65 per cent to 75 per cent of the electorate will be voting in coming election. If there are an average of 32 million voters, at least 20.8 million to 24 million will vote.

As U Tin Aye said that he guaranteed only the 30 per cent of the voter lists was correct, it means that only 9.6 million of the voters will be able to vote, which is indeed a worrisome situation.

Besides, the voter lists should not include any ineligible voters. Even if the exact 75 per cent voters went to the polls, the election result could be varied depending on the number of ineligible voters as in the 2010 election.

It is up to the observers and the relevant officials to make sure such plots do not unfold at polling booths.

By taking the experience from the 2010 election and the existing situation into account, the electoral frauds are likely to happen in six regions: Sagaing, Ayeyawady, Mandalay, Taninthayi, Chin State and Kayah State.

The corruption among the concerned authorities is rampant in these areas and all of them ridden with the crony tycoons’ supporters, also. Sagaing Region should be under the watchful eye as an example.

The candidates from the ruling party managed to win by a landslide in the 2010 election in Kayah State, Sagaing, Taninthayi, Bago, Mandalay, Magway and Ayeyawady.

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Based on data of the 1990 and 2010 elections, we can estimate that 65 per cent to 75 per cent of the voters will go to the polls in the coming election.

Since it was promised that the advance votes will be limited to the 5 per cent of the total votes, we can forget about that.

Further the number of the votes that got rejected or spoiled is limited under 12 per cent or the result will be dubious.

The most important thing is that if the data of 10 million out of 32 million eligible voters are assured accurate, another 10 million will be able to vote after corrections were made in the voter lists and the remaining 12 million voters will lose their right to vote (by any confusions and the reasons given for the mistakes), the 2015 election will not be free and fair.

The words of U Tin Aye are trying to avoid a thunderstorm with a toddy palm leaf. The only thing he accomplished in last five years is the 2012 by-election.

The 2012 by-election was not the decisive factor for political power balance. Only the 2015 election will be the decisive factor. We cannot trust in U Tin Aye by judging the fact that he held a free and fair by-election in 2012.

Although U Tin Aye is supposed to behave as a referee to the election, he still thinks himself as a government official. This is clearly shown in his interview with the 7Day released on September 23.

“...I will carry out the national politics as long as I’m healthy. Whatever happens, I will work for the country till my last breath if someone asked me to make use of my 52-year-worth experiences for the country,” he said during the interview with the 7Day.

The chair of the 1990 election commission U Ba Htay did not give such speech; instead he did what he had to be done without any political ambitions.

But U Tin Aye is a different story; he seems to have an ambition, or at least an attitude to perform what he was ordered to. That is why he is unreliable. The words he said also contained hints that discredit him.

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There are three things about U Tin Aye that make him unreliable: his background, his self-contradictory statements when he blamed the shift in computer software and the mistakes happened in printouts for repeated errors in the voter lists. He knew that only 30 per cent of the result can be correct in advance. However he put all the blames on the technical problems saying it was software errors. He then said he was unaware of the change in software, which falls onto the shoulders of the IFES, the in-charge of technical supports. The reputation of the IFES is now stained by the voter lists in Myanmar; the people’s trust in them is fading.

So the third reason that makes U Tin Aye unreliable is that his failure to make the voter lists right.

President U Thein Sein appointed the union election commission chairperson.

The current political sphere is more like a struggle between President U Thein Sein and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD than the one between the USDP and the NLD. President U Thein Sein also did not say that he would not try for the second term which is why the struggle got accelerated.

Meanwhile U Tin Aye, the chairperson of election commission who is supposed to be mediator, happens to be a comrade of U Thein Sein.

U Tin Aye said in the interview with the 7Day: “The president and I are comrades; the brothers in arms. We have mutual respect.”

He also said that he had no attachments to the USDP.

“I do not have that a strong attachment to the USDP. I joined it in August 2010 and left in March 2011,” he said to the 7Day.

He left the party in March 2011 just because President U Thein Sein happened to appoint him as the chairperson of the election commission.

The next day he quitted the party, President U Thein Sein applied him for the chairperson post of the election commission to the Parliament.

According to section 398 of the constitution, the President is to appoint at least five members of the election commission including its chairperson. In addition, section 6 of the union election commission mentions that the span of the commission is same as that of the President. Therefore the election commission expires as soon as the President does.

Besides, U Tin Aye was the sixth leader during the military regime and is as influential among the military as Thura U Shwe Mann, U Tin Aung Myint Oo and U Thein Sein after senior general U Than Shwe and vice senior general U Maung Aye.

The director general, deputy director general and director positions of the union election commission and its departments are placed with the retired lieutenant-colonels and majors.

Similarly most of the high-ranking officials of the district-level election commission offices are the military personnel retired at the major rank.

Judging by the situation, the election commission is responsible for any frauds or mistakes concerned with the election.

The worst-case scenario is that U Thein Sein returned for the second term after the election and the result and conditions of the election are controversial. It will definitely damage the image of President U Thein Sein.

That is why precautions should be made to make certain the voter lists are correct and there is no controversial election result.

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It is the duty of the observers to prevent the election from becoming questionable. They firstly need to investigate how much of the voter lists is mistaken according to each area.

It does not take a lot of manpower – a team composed of 100,000 staff is enough to produce a correct voter list. The election is not credible without a correct voter list.

The erroneous voter lists are the responsibility of election commission chairperson U Tin Aye and President U Thein Sein. They both are required to guarantee a voter list that is at least 90 per cent accurate.

Or not, the only option left for U Tin Aye is leave his chairperson post.

According to section 400 (b) of the constitution, the chairperson of union election commission is to blame if he failed to perform his duty well.

It is the responsibility of the union election commission chairperson to compile the voter lists accurately. On international level, the government or the organisation assigned to duty by the government is responsible to ensure the accuracy of the voter lists.

An election is not to be held with the voter lists whose accuracy is guaranteed up to merely 30 per cent in the country with 32 million eligible voters.

The free-and-fair election is not without the accurate voter lists.

If it needs more time, the second alternative is to postpone the election. But the law specifies the Parliament will expire on January 31, 2016 and it is impossible to take more than two months additional.

Otherwise, U Tin Aye needs to promise not to cheat the election by the voter lists if the election will be held under the existing conditions.

President U Thein Sein is required to take responsibility if U Tin Aye did not, because he said early this month that the people must carry out their roles as the electors dutifully and the polling is not to be missed.

According to President U Thein Sein, every citizen will be able to perform their duty only by the accurate voter lists, not by the ones whose accuracy can be guaranteed only up to 30 per cent.

Therefore all the global institutions, media, voters and parties have to insist on the President to make the voter lists right and hold the free-and-fair election.