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The Carter Center Issues Report and Recommendations on Myanmar's Electoral Process

Contact: In Atlanta, Soyia Ellison,
In Yangon, Stefan Krause,

Read the full field mission report (PDF)

In Burmese (PDF)

ATLANTA — Myanmar's Union Election Commission is making efforts to improve the transparency and integrity of the electoral process in advance of the 2015 general elections, according to a Carter Center monitoring mission report released today. However, a number of key challenges need to be addressed in order to ensure that the upcoming elections earn the confidence of voters, political parties, and civil society organizations.

The main findings of the Carter Center mission include:

  • International and National Observation. The UEC has committed to inviting international observers to monitor the electoral process and has engaged actively with national observer groups to develop a code of conduct and accreditation process. This is a positive step and notably different from the 2010 elections and 2012 by-elections. Carter Center field staff have been permitted broad access in the states and regions, with few restrictions.
  • Electoral Framework. Although there are significant weaknesses in the constitution with respect to international standards for democratic elections, the legal framework has the potential to facilitate the conduct of credible elections, provided that regulations address key gaps, such as the advance voting process.
  • Political Space. While the openness of political space varies among regions and states, political parties, civil society, and the media generally report a freer environment than in 2010 or 2012. While few reported overt harassment or intimidation, there are widespread fears that working on sensitive issues, such as land confiscation and corruption, will lead to retaliation by government, military, or ethnic armed groups.
  • Voting Rights and Political Participation. The planned expiry of temporary registration certificates is likely to result in the disenfranchisement of certificate holders unless the government acts quickly to enable them to obtain new documents. Most of the affected people are from ethnic groups and religious minorities, and the majority are Rohingya in Rakhine state. This is a significant area of concern.
  • Communal Tensions. Though communal tensions did not feature prominently as a concern in the states and regions visited by The Carter Center, anti-Muslim rhetoric was common, and leaders of minority religious communities expressed fear that the election process could give rise to conflict. There is a need for greater efforts on interfaith dialogue and conflict resolution.
  • Improving Electoral Integrity. A lack of transparency in advance voting, especially by the military, and voting by displaced and migrant populations were identified as problem areas in 2010 and continue to need attention. The UEC's commitment to making these parts of the process fully observable will be important to ensuring the credibility of the election.
  • Election Management. The rules governing the appointment of members to election bodies at all levels could be substantially improved. There is also a widespread perception that the reliance of election sub-commissions on local government administration undermines their impartiality. At the same time, sub-commissions visited by The Carter Center were open to observation and showed a commitment to conduct their activities in a professional and transparent manner.
  • Elections in Areas of Ethnic Armed Group Control. Despite concerns about the impact of elections on the peace process, ethnic parties were optimistic that elections would take place. In the areas visited, armed groups indicated that they would not obstruct polling in areas under their control, with exceptions in border townships of Shan and Kayin states. Political space appears to be significantly curtailed in some areas.

If conducted in a transparent and inclusive way, the elections present an opportunity to build public confidence, and to demonstrate the government's commitment to democratic reform. Based on the mission's findings, The Carter Center offers the following recommendations for the Union Election Commission, the government of Myanmar, and other political actors:

The Union Election Commission

  • There is a need for greater clarity and transparency to build confidence among stakeholders in the election process. The UEC could address this by finalizing remaining by-laws, directives, and working guidelines and publishing them in a timely manner. The UEC could also consider establishing an election calendar, a standard practice in many countries.
  • Regulations and procedures for advance voting and voting for displaced populations should allow full access to observers and party agents, including any advance voting conducted in military and police facilities.
  • To ensure that the process is free from discrimination and that each individual is able to exercise the right to vote, the UEC should provide for maximum inclusivity in updating voter lists.
  • The recently issued codes of conduct for observers, which the UEC developed with the participation of civil society organizations, are important transparency measures. The accreditation process should commence as soon as possible so that observers can work with the formal recognition of the UEC.
  • The UEC should consider increasing the number of women and members of ethnic groups appointed as sub-commission members. This would better reflect the diversity of Myanmar and improve public confidence in the work of sub-commissions.
  • The UEC should encourage increased engagement between election sub-commissions and political parties and civil society at the local level. This would build public knowledge about the electoral process and increase confidence in the work of sub-commissions.

The Government of Myanmar

  • The freedoms of association, assembly, and expression are vital to a democratic election process and should be fully permitted by authorities at all levels. Requirements for the conduct of public meetings should be simplified so all political parties and candidates have sufficient and equal opportunity to communicate their views. Steps should be taken to ensure that civil society and journalists can work without fear of harassment, obstruction, or retaliation.
  • To ensure respect for the fundamental right to vote, the government should ensure that temporary certificate holders who are currently on the voter lists are not disenfranchised by the recent decision to end the validity of these certificates. Administrative actions that could result in the loss of voting rights are a serious matter that should be subject to a fair, transparent, and non-discriminatory review process.
  • Freedom of movement for national and international observers should be guaranteed, and security officials should not be permitted to interfere with their activities.

All Stakeholders

  • Ethnic armed groups should publicly commit to not obstructing the work of political parties, civil society, observers, journalists, or election sub-commissions.
  • Political actors should refrain from using hate speech or discriminatory language. In this respect, the current efforts by political parties to draft a code of conduct are a welcome development. The government should take steps to protect minority communities in areas where tensions are high. Interfaith dialogue should be actively supported.

This report summarizes the preliminary findings of The Carter Center's observation mission to Myanmar based on interviews and field trips conducted in Kayah, Kayin, Mon and Shan states, and in Ayeyarwady and Mandalay regions, from December 2014 to February 2015. During these visits, The Carter Center met with a wide array of interlocutors to assess the electoral framework, the state of election preparations, and the breadth of political space. The Carter Center bases its analysis on well-established international obligations and standards. The Carter Center will continue its field monitoring work in the run-up to the formal call for elections and plans to visit each of the remaining states and regions.

The Carter Center works to advance democratic elections and governance consistent with universal human rights. The Center is credited with making substantial contributions to the professionalization of the field of election observation and assistance; reinforcing the linkage between election observation and human rights; building civil society capacity for monitoring elections and government performance against democratic obligations based in international law; and helping strengthen democratic governance worldwide. The Center has monitored 99 elections in 38 countries since 1989. Carter Center missions are conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and the accompanying Code of Conduct.

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