YANGON (Oct. 13, 2020) — In a preelection statement (PDF) released today, The Carter Center commended the Union Election Commission for keeping the election process on track despite the extraordinary circumstances created by COVID-19. The statement also points out criticisms of the commission’s handling of some issues as well as structural legal shortcomings that continue to undermine the democratic character of Myanmar’s elections.
The pandemic has led to the imposition of restrictions on movement that have impacted the work of the election administration, election observers, and the media. These restrictions also made it difficult for political parties and candidates to get their messages to voters at the beginning of the campaign period.
With over 6,900 candidates from 92 political parties and independent campaigns, voters will have a wide range of choice. The Union Election Commission and its subcommissions have completed one voter list update and are in the process of another. In addition, they have organized candidate registration and are currently training election officials. With the support of election assistance providers and civil society, the election administration is carrying out extensive voter information activities, including through online facilities.
However, the Union Election Commission has faced criticism for its handling of the accreditation of domestic observers, limited consultations with political parties, and censorship of political party speeches in free airtime slots on state media. In addition, structural legal shortcomings continue to undermine the democratic character of the process, including quotas for unelected military appointees in all legislative bodies, restrictive eligibility criteria for the presidency, inequalities in constituency populations resulting in unequal representation, and the lack of the ability to appeal decisions of the Union Election Commission to a court.
Citizenship requirements continue to lead to unwarranted restrictions of fundamental political rights. Former temporary citizenship certificate holders who were disenfranchised prior to the 2015 elections – the majority of whom are Muslim Rohingya – have not had their voting rights reinstated. Most prospective Rohingya candidates have been denied registration on citizenship grounds.
The election campaign period began on Sept. 8. As the size of rallies and door-to-door campaigning has been restricted to limit the spread of COVID-19, political parties and candidates have resorted to smaller-scale events and vehicle caravans, leading to some inter-party clashes. In addition, much of the election campaign has been shifted to social media. Monitoring of public Facebook accounts has shown an increase in hate speech and disinformation about parties and candidates.
The Carter Center, which was accredited as an observer organization on July 30, has also been impacted by the pandemic. Nevertheless, the mission continues to follow the election process with long-term observers working remotely and plans to deploy up to 12 foreign national short-term observers shortly before election day. In the coming weeks, the mission will focus observation efforts on the completion of the voter roll, the conduct of the campaign, decisions on holding elections in constituencies affected by conflict, advance voting, polling, counting, tabulation and announcement of results, and the resolution of election-related disputes.