Early Warning Signs for Upcoming Election

August 21st, 2020  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  8 minute read
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“International election observation missions will be limited due to travel restrictions and quarantine requirements as necessary preventive measures during the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, to safeguard the transparency and accountability of the electoral processes, domestic election observers’ role is of crucial importance.”

People’s Alliance for Credible Elections (PACE)

Early warning signs that the November general election in Myanmar[1] will be problematic are already becoming visible. The initial banning of independent, civil society election watchdog to participate in election monitoring and the further marginalization and disenfranchisement of ethnic and religious minorities, especially the Rohingya, points to a non-inclusive process in which democratic space is being limited.

On 30 July, 2020, the Union Election Commission (UEC) stated that it would not allow the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections (PACE) to monitor the upcoming 2020 elections. After previously deploying thousands of monitors in the 2015 election and hundreds in subsequent local and by-elections, this independent Myanmar civil society network has a credible and strong track record in engaging in such activities, and had planned to deploy up to 2,900 observers in November. It is particularly important in 2020, to have an independent and strong, local civil society network to monitor the elections, because, as PACE stated themselves “International election observation missions will be limited due to travel restrictions and quarantine requirements as necessary preventive measures during the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, to safeguard the transparency and accountability of the electoral processes, domestic election observers’ role is of crucial importance.”

The reason given by the UEC to bar PACE from monitoring in its 30 July letter to PACE is because they receive international funding yet are not a registered organization, despite their best efforts to become registered. This is despite the fact that the NGO registration law does not stipulate that it is mandatory for a civil society organization to register, but rather is voluntary. This is a major problem. Many civil society organizations operate without registration due to the immensely time-consuming and bureaucratic hoops that they need to jump through to become registered, while increased scrutiny from the authorities is particularly problematic for those human rights organizations that stand firmly on their values and principles. An example would be the impossibility of a group that substantively advocates for the rights of the Rohingya or other ethnic and religious minorities, or for justice and accountability, to become registered. This situation is only becoming worse with the recent law that will come into effect in October, regarding tax registration for non-profit organizations that will be required to submit detailed financial statements to the authorities, ostensibly “to fight money laundering and countering financing Terrorism which operate undercover of those non-profit organizations.” In reality, such a bill means greater scrutiny of the activities of civil society organizations, particularly those working on the issues of protection of human rights, equality, justice and accountability.

Furthermore, with the government and the UEC itself having received assistance from international donors, it is rather hypocritical to deem foreign funding as a reason to bar PACE’s participation in election monitoring. A civil society statement, signed by 451 Myanmar organizations has condemned this decision, calling for the UEC to allow PACE to engage in its monitoring activities to ensure “legitimacy, independence and fairness.” Due to this civil society pressure, the UEC announced that it would reverse this decision, yet it should be noted that this U-turn was only due to the actions of civil society, rather than the good faith of the UEC.

The UEC has also made veiled threats to those who have called to boycott the election, with UEC member, U Myint Naing, stating in an interview with the Irrawaddy that such calls are against the law, and that charges could be filed against such people. Just to make sure, he detailed the exact laws and provisions within them that ‘no vote’ calls violate. He also implied that the UEC may file charges, stating “We will act in line with the law. There are legal provisions. That’s all I want to say.” Yet for some people, it may not even be safe to vote. For example in Rakhine State, people are afraid to even check the voter’s lists due to safety concerns amid the armed conflict.

This shrinking space for civil society is coupled with the unsurprising and inevitable restrictions on ethnic minorities, none more so evident than the Rohingya. As a statement by human rights organization, Fortify Rights, demonstrates, Rohingya candidates face massive challenges registering to run for office. Banned from the 2015 elections, several Rohingya political parties have submitted applications to run as candidates in November. However, Abdul Rasheed, who intended to run with the Democracy and Human Rights Party, was rejected by the local Sittwe UEC, as they deemed his parents as not being citizens of Myanmar at the time of his birth, despite the paperwork that he had to present to prove that they were. Subsequently a further four Rohingya candidates have had their application to run in the election rejected on the same grounds. This points to larger issues of exclusion of the Rohingya community from any political participation in Myanmar, including their right to self-identify.

The disproportionate focus on elections as the best indicator of a democracy obscures the authoritarian and exclusionary system of governance in Myanmar. That ethnic and religious minorities are disenfranchised, that civil society space is being squeezed and that the UEC threatens those who are either expressing their individual position on, or campaigning to boycott, the 2020 election with a “No Vote” action, are more significant indicators of the current state of the health of democracy in Myanmar. Until the rights of all people of Myanmar are recognized and guaranteed, and until the military fully relinquishes its stranglehold over the major levers of power, elections alone will not be able to resolve this country’s deeply entrenched problems regardless of whether these elections are free and fair. The withdrawal of the military from the country’s political arena is the only way and this entails either major amendments or repeal of the 2008 Constitution, particularly in areas where the military has 25% of seat in all houses and regional Parliaments, key positions in government and where their impunity is enshrined.

[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week


Statements and Press Releases

ကရင့်အာဇာနည်နေ့ အခမ်းအနားအား ပိတ်ပင်တားဆီးပြီး ကရင်အရပ်ဘက်ခေါင်းဆောင်များအား အရေးယူသည့်အပေါ် ရခိုင်အရပ်ဘက်အဖွဲ့အစည်းများမှ ထုတ်ပြန်ချက်

By 28 Rakhine Civil Soceity Organizations

Statement by civil society organizations on the reinstatement of 2G internet in 7 townships of Rakhine State and Paletwa Township of Chin State

By 30 Civil Soceity Organizations

ရခိုင်ပြည်နယ် မြို့နယ် (၇) မြို့နယ်နှင့် ချင်းပြည်နယ်ပလက်ဝမြို့နယ်တို့တွင် အင်တာနက် 2-G ဖွင့်ပေးခြင်းအခြေအနေနှင့် ပတ်သက်၍ အရပ်ဘက်အဖွဲ့အစည်းများမှ ထုတ်ပြန်ကြေငြာချက်

By 30 Civil Soceity Organizations

၂၀၂၀ ပြည့်နှစ် အထွေထွေရွေးကောက်ပွဲတွင် လွတ်လပ်သော အရပ်ဘက် စောင့်ကြည့်လေ့လာရေး လုပ်ငန်းစဉ်များအား ပြည်ထောင်စုရွေးကောက်ပွဲကော်မရှင်က ကန့်သတ်ပိတ်ပင်မှုကိစ္စနှင့် ပတ်သက်၍ အရပ်ဘက်အဖွဲ့အစည်းများ၏ သဘောထားထုတ်ပြန်ချက်

By 451 Civil Society Organizations

Facebook Must Release All Evidence Related to the Rohingya Genocide

By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

Labour Party Back Sanctions On Burmese Military Companies

By Burma Campaign UK

Myanmar: Ensure Rohingya Participation in Elections

By Fortify Rights

Myanmar: Drop Criminal Complaints Against Organizers of Karen Martyrs’ Day Ceremony

By Fortify Rights

Myanmar: Revise Election Broadcast Rules

By Human Rights Watch

Justice For Myanmar Responds to Kirin’s 2Q Financial Results: Myanmar Military Earns 45.57 Billion MMK (USD$33.5 million) in Profits from Their Business with Kirin, Bankrolling Genocide, War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity

By Justice For Myanmar

KHRG Condemns the Arrest and Detention of Participants in a Karen Martyrs’ Day Event

By Karen Human Rights Group

The Karen Women’s Organization Calls for Justice for Naw Mu Naw and Her Family

By Karen Women’s Organization

ကရင်အမျိုးသမီး အစည်းအရုံး (KWO) က နော်မုနော်နှင့် မိသားစုအတွက် တရားမျှတမှုကို တောင်းဆိုလိုက်သည်

By Karen Women’s Organization

PACE Concerned that Restrictions on Domestic Election Observation of 2020 General Elections will Decrease the Transparency and Credibility of the Election

By People’s Alliance for Credible Elections

၂၀၂၀ပြည့်နှစ် အထွေထွေရွေးကောက်ပွဲတွင် ပြည်တွင်း အရပ်ဘက်အဖွဲ့အစည်းများ၏ စောင့်ကြည့်လေ့လာမှုများကို ကန့်သတ်လိုက်ခြင်းကြောင့် ရွေးကောက်ပွဲပွင့်လင်းမြင်သာမှုနှင့် သမာသမတ်ကျမှုအပေါ် မလိုလားအပ်သည့် သက်ရောက်မှုများရှိမည်ကို PACE အဖွဲ့ကစိုးရိမ်

By People’s Alliance for Credible Elections

Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”