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Voting irregularities in Myanmar election reach Australia

It is less than three weeks until parliamentary elections in Myanmar, seen as a key test of the country’s moves towards democratic reforms.


But, already, questions of polling legitimacy have arisen, with would-be voters overseas — including in Australia — saying they have been turned away from the ballot box.

“That’s a nice photo of Aung San Suu Kyi, our leader, doing the electioneering in her campaign.”

Scanning news reports at her Sydney home, Hnin Sandar Htay recalls applying months ago to cast an early ballot for Myanmar’s parliamentary polls.

Then the young doctor received bad news a short time ago.

“Two to three days before the actual voting process, and then the early voter list came out. I was not on that list. And I was shocked, because I already prepared to go to give a vote in Canberra.”

A quarter of a century ago, in the 1990 elections, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won an 80 per cent majority.

But the military nullified the result, returning Myanmar to military rule.

This time, the National League for Democracy is predicted to possibly do well enough to lead a coalition of smaller parties.

Many of Ms Suu Kyi’s supporters are within the millions-strong diaspora, including in Australia.

Hnin Sandar Htay says the importance of the moment makes her disappointment worse.

“Yeah, so disappointed, because this is the moment, the biggest moment and most important in so many decades for our country to have this opportunity to change our country. Our leader, Daw Suu, is in her retiring age, you know, 70 years old, so, if we can’t grab this opportunity, we never know what can happen, you know?”

Political observers agree it is a critical juncture for the once pariah state.

In Melbourne, Deakin University professor Damien Kingsbury is set to lead one of several Australian monitoring teams to Myanmar.

“It may result in a partial democracy. That is, that perhaps 75 per cent of the seats in parliament will be elected. And that’s a very good step. It’s certainly better than what Myanmar’s had in the past, where you didn’t have elections. So it’s a step in a democratic direction. It won’t amount to a full democracy just yet, and it may never amount to a full democracy.”

But at embassies and voting centres in Singapore, Thailand and elsewhere, many citizens say they have been denied.

Myanmar’s government says, of more than 2 million registered workers abroad, just 34,000 registered to vote in time.

In Australia, Hnin Sandar Htay and other Myanmarese nationals say their names just were not on electoral lists.

Others say they were registered with Myanmar’s Union Election Commission but not with the embassy in Canberra.

And still others say they could only vote in one of the three parliamentary categories involved.

Damien Kingsbury says he is not sure the problems are intentional.

“There are some logistical problems. I don’t think it’s the government trying to derail the process. Rather, I think it’s just the sheer complexity and the fact they haven’t done this for a very long time.”

But a National League for Democracy supporter from the Sydney-based Burma Office, Dr Myint Cho, thinks differently.

“I don’t think it’s a mistake. They deliberately take that kind of action to make many eligible voters to become ineligible for voting. Friends of mine told me they got information from the embassy, let’s say, (on the) 16th of October. So, (the) 17th is voting date. How can they fly in from other parts of Australia to go to Canberra to vote?”

The Union Election Commission has rejected accusations of bias at overseas advance-voting sites.

But Myint Cho says, in Myanmar itself, voter lists are strewn with errors.

He says the Election Commission, led by a retired general, cannot be impartial.

“The Election Commission disqualified nearly a hundred candidates of the opposition parties, particularly the Democracy and Human Rights Party formed by Muslim politicians. And another thing is, the commission cancelled the votes of 33 townships, based on the reason of ‘security’.”

President Thein Sein’s ruling United Solidarity and Development Party has also stripped Myanmar’s million-strong Rohingya Muslim minority of voting rights.

Australian business leaders in Myanmar say they want stability and transparency from the polls.

Then, afterwards, they hope for movement on stalled mining laws to make oil and gas exploration leases longer.

Ben Parker is from the Australian Myanmar Chamber of Commerce.

“I think it’s really important for any new, incoming government to progress those laws, to encourage foreign investment and to encourage the extractive industries in a transparent manner.”

One analyst suggests the National League for Democracy would be better for foreign business.

He says Aung San Suu Kyi’s party may well prove stricter on environmental protections but it is strongly committed to the rule of law.



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