Watchdog group says no credible proof of fraud in Burmese elections

Watchdog group says no credible proof of fraud in Burmese elections

The Associated Press

The November 2020 election results in Burma were “by and large, representative of the will of the people,” an independent election monitoring organization said in May 2021, rejecting the military’s allegations of massive fraud that served as its reason for seizing power.

While there were flaws, “there were a number of procedural safeguards implemented throughout the polling process, which … was found to be transparent and reliable,” the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) reported.

It noted, however, that Burma’s electoral process is “fundamentally undemocratic” because its 2008 constitution, written under military rule, grants the military an automatic 25% share of all parliamentary seats, enough to block constitutional changes. Large sectors of the population, most notably the Muslim Rohingya minority, are deprived of citizenship rights, including the right to vote.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory in the November 8 polls, which should have secured it a second five-year term. Its 2015 victory moved Burma toward democracy after more than five decades of direct and indirect military rule.

On February 1, 2021, the military arrested Suu Kyi, pictured casting her ballot, and dozens of other top officials. It prevented lawmakers from convening a new session of Parliament, declared a state of emergency and said it would run the country until new elections were held in a year — a deadline it later indicated could be delayed an additional year.

Security forces have sought to suppress huge popular opposition to the military coup, with hundreds of protesters and bystanders killed in the crackdown.

The report by the nonprofit ANFREL noted that junta leader Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said the military took over because “there was terrible fraud in the voter lists.” The army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, which suffered unexpectedly heavy losses in the election, made similar allegations.

Since the coup, state-controlled media have released data that they purport shows that voter lists could not be reconciled with the election results.

ANFREL said it “lacked sufficient information to independently verify the allegations of voter list fraud” because the election law did not allow it access to voting lists, but that it had not seen credible evidence of massive irregularities.

The report said there was merit to several complaints about the election made by the Union Solidarity and Development Party and independent observers.

The biggest issue was the cancellation of voting for security reasons in several areas where insurgent groups were active. ANFREL criticized the cancellations by the Union Election Commission for being “conducted in an opaque, arbitrary, and inconsistent manner” and noted that they were seen by critics as aimed at limiting the seats that might be won by ethnic political parties that were rivals of Suu Kyi’s party.

Other areas in which the election fell short included discriminatory citizenship laws used to reject candidates, especially Muslims, and the dissolution of the United Democratic Party three weeks before the election. Disqualifying the party, which fielded the second highest number of candidates, “disenfranchised advance voters who had already cast their ballots” for its candidates, ANFREL said.

“Nevertheless, it is ANFREL’s informed opinion that the results of the 2020 general elections were, by and large, representative of the will of the people of Myanmar [Burma]. Despite the raging COVID-19 pandemic, 27.5 million people voted, thanks to the hard work of polling staff and election or health officials; their voices cannot be silenced,” the report said.