Monday, 09 December 2019

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Pressure to support USDP further fouls vote integrity

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – In perhaps one of the final blows to the credibility of Burma’s highly criticised general election, reports have emerged of residents being forced to vote for junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party candidates in voting undertaken in advance of tomorrow’s poll.

UDP_aimThe damning allegations include vote-tampering, the use of threats and intimidation and the collusion of USDP candidates, ward election authorities, local police, military commanders and Border Guard Forces to coerce voters to support the junta-backed party.

Democratic Party (Myanmar) candidate Thu Wei told Mizzima threats and intimidation had been widespread in his electorate.

“Soldiers and police also had to cast their absentee votes. Some of them are relatives of mine and some of them friends,” Thu Wei said. “They told me how they had to cast their votes in advance. A police major ordered all officers to cast their absentee votes in his presence, and an army commander ordered the same of his subordinates.”

Police in Bogale Township, Irrawaddy Division, have been ordered to submit advance votes to their superior officers, Peace and Diversity Party candidate Sandar Oo said. “They cast the votes but not by secret ballot. They had to hand their ballots to their superior officers.”

She said advance voting should only be for people who were unable to visit polling stations on election day, but in her constituency, everyone was allowed to vote in advance. She added that she would register a complaint with the township branch of the Union Election Commission.

Burma Campaign UK, a London-based NGO, said there were countless reports of harassment of people in parties not allied to the dictatorship, and candidates and their families had been targeted. There are also reports of bribes and threats.

Hundreds of thousands of people and their families in state-linked jobs such as the military and civil service were told to vote for the USDP in ballots in advance of the election, it reported.

Voter coercion is another scandal that will plague junta claims of holding a free and fair election. The latest allegations are set against a backdrop of boycotts, voting bans for millions of ethnic minorities, general voter malaise, international condemnation of the election laws and the continued detention of democracy movement leader Aung San Suu Kyi, along with thousands of other political prisoners.

Union Democractic Party (UDP) general secretary Thein Tin Aung feared the practice would continue tomorrow without independent monitoring at polling stations.

“I’m worried that some authorities may coerce voters to cast advance votes for the Union Solidarity and Development Party. But we have no control. Without polling agents to monitor the advance-voting processes, we can’t know whether irregularities have taken place and we can’t complain to the electoral commissions. Just our luck!” Thein Tin Aung said.

The junta banned overseas journalists and election watchdogs from entering the country during the election period, a direct rebuff to internationally recognised standards for holding free and fair elections.

“I want to urge people to monitor the election processes for the sake of the truth,” the UDP candidate for the People’s Assembly seat of Tarmway Township in Rangoon said. “The obstacles are time and a shortage of party members to appoint as polling agents. Also, the people live in fear and some feel reluctant even to vote. To be polling agents, they must give their photos and personal details to the authorities so they don’t want to serve in that role.”

Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch dismissed the elections as a farce.

“Through acts of intimidation and petty corruption, the USDP has spread throughout Burma to perpetuate military rule with a civilian face,” she said. “The international community doesn’t need to wait until November 7 to know these elections are rigged from top to bottom.”

“Governments and the UN should work together in setting the bar to press the new

government for real change in Burma,” Pearson said.

In a statement issued on October 29, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, a former South African High Court judge, said: “Conditions for genuine elections [in Burma] that meet international standards have so far not been reached.”

The UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana, reported to the UN General Assembly last week that freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association had been further restricted through implementation of the election laws and the directives issued by the junta’s Union Election Commission.

“In the final days before the election, the government should respect these freedoms,” he said.

The Kachin’s last stand
Since October this year, Burma has been in a state of civil war, with fighting between Burmese military and armed ethnic rebels. The ruling junta started a crackdown on these armed groups.

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