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Carter Center Congratulates Myanmar People on Election, Urges Key Democratic Reforms

In Burmese (PDF)

Read preliminary statement (PDF)

Contact: Soyia Ellison,
Frederick Rawski,

YANGON - The Carter Center congratulates the people of Myanmar, who have exercised their political rights with pride and enthusiasm. Both on election day and in the preceding months, they participated as voters, observers, political party agents, election officials, and civil society activists. Their empowerment and commitment to the democratic process was not only remarkable but crucial to counterbalancing the considerable structural impediments to fully democratic elections.

Overall, the elections were held in an orderly and peaceful manner. On election day, voters turned out in large numbers to cast their ballots, and thousands of civil society observers watched the process throughout the country. Carter Center observers visited 245 polling stations across the nation and found the polling and counting process to be generally well-conducted. While observers saw minor procedural problems, these appeared to be due to limited resources and the lack of experience of polling staff. In 95 percent of the polling stations visited, observers assessed the conduct of both voting and counting positively.

Many important steps have been taken since the 2010 general elections to open political space and to create an environment that the major political parties found as a minimally acceptable basis for participation. The Union Election Commission (UEC) significantly increased the transparency of the electoral process by providing international and domestic citizen observers with access to most aspects of the electoral process, although there were exceptions, particularly out-of-constituency advance voting. Voters had a wide choice of contesting political parties, and candidates and parties were able to communicate their messages freely in most parts of the country. As a result, the elections in most areas were competitive and meaningful. This is a positive advance for Myanmar and an important foundation for the future.

However, Myanmar's transition from authoritarian rule to democracy is incomplete. Additional democratic advances are required to be fully consistent with broadly recognized international standards for democratic elections and governance. The constitutional framework for elections is heavily flawed, limiting the fundamental democratic nature of the elected bodies and undermining public confidence in work of the election administration. Despite improvements over the past few years, there are still constraints on freedom of speech and assembly, including pressure on journalists and some limitations on peaceful protest. Importantly, the government has made progress in ending the armed conflicts that persist in several areas, but violence and its accompanying impact on human rights continue.

In addition, some of the people of Myanmar were excluded from the electoral process, in violation of their fundamental political rights. As many as one million temporary citizenship card-holders, mostly from the Rohingya minority but also from other ethnic minorities, lost their right to vote in the run-up to the elections. In addition to this disenfranchisement, hundreds of thousands of other people were not able to vote, including people in conflict areas, displaced persons, migrants, and clergy. Anti-Muslim discourse negatively affects political life and fundamental equality. These are all issues that civil society and the incoming authorities will need to address to realize Myanmar's aspirations for a fully democratic electoral process.

The conduct of out-of-constituency advance voting lacked transparency, as international and domestic observers were unable to observe these processes. Because of the lack of access, it is difficult to assess various allegations regarding problems with out-of-constituency advance voting. The Center continues to monitor the tabulation of results and has noted a lack of transparency in making preliminary results available at the constituency level. The Center encourages the UEC to publicize these results at constituency and polling station levels as soon as possible, a widely recognized international best practice to ensure transparency and reinforce public confidence.

Despite the flaws, Myanmar appears to be on a positive trajectory toward a peaceful, democratic transition as a result of these elections. To maintain this trajectory, it is important for all actors to engage in a dialogue and consensus-seeking process to identify constructive steps toward lasting peace and national reconciliation.

Additional key conclusions of the Carter Center observation mission include the following:

  • Constitution: A number of provisions in the 2008 constitution are inconsistent with fundamental democratic standards: The military appoints 25 percent of the members of both houses of the union parliament, giving unelected military parliamentarians a large role in the election of the president and adoption of legislation, as well as veto power over constitutional reform. In addition, the military commander in chief names three ministers (defense, home affairs, and border affairs), who are unaccountable to the president and operate without any civilian oversight.

The dramatic variations in the size of constituencies results in severe distortions of equal suffrage and the equality of the vote across constituencies. In addition, the ability of citizens to stand for president is unduly limited by provisions that are widely seen as directed against the main opposition leader and prevent her from participating in the upcoming indirect presidential election.

  • Election laws: Apart from constitutional constraints, the election laws generally provide for an acceptable electoral process when implemented reasonably, as they were in this election. However, the laws give the UEC overly broad authority to regulate the process. Political leaders, legislators, and election authorities – together with civil society – should consider reviewing these laws to ensure greater protection of fundamental democratic rights and freedoms. Ratification of core international human rights treaties would be an important step in this respect.
  • Election administration: At this stage in the process, the UEC appears to have successfully organized a complex election process despite considerable challenges. Although the election administration lacks legal and structural independence, which has resulted in perceptions of bias, the UEC and its sub-commissions appear to have conducted their work in good faith, with only a few important exceptions. For future elections, the UEC could consider steps to increase the transparency of decision-making, strengthen safeguards for the conduct of advance voting, and enhance the transparency of the tabulation process and the handling of complaints.
  • Voter lists: The accuracy of voter lists was a major issue of contention throughout the pre-election period. Political parties and civil society groups complained about inaccuracies on the preliminary lists that were posted for public review, while the UEC maintained that it was incumbent on citizens to submit requests for corrections, additions, and deletions to the lists. Center observers did not see significant numbers of voters being turned away from voting on election day, and the accuracy of the lists did not appear to be a significant problem. Nonetheless, the UEC should consider conducting an audit of the voter lists and reviewing procedures for amending the lists in advance of future elections to allay concerns.
  • Candidate registration: Candidate registration resulted in a wide choice for voters. Nevertheless, arbitrary and discriminatory practices during the scrutiny process led to the disqualification of most Muslim candidates, including two incumbents elected in 2010.
  • Campaign: Observers found that the electoral campaign was initially subdued, although it became more vibrant as election day approached. The main opposition party held large and open rallies throughout the country, as, to a lesser extent, did the ruling party. Despite the overly restrictive campaign regulations, the election administration applied the rules in a reasonable manner, facilitating the ability of parties and candidates to campaign. However, political space was uneven. In a few constituencies, not all candidates could campaign on an equal basis, and at least two people were arrested for posting satirical material on social media.

The campaign was negatively affected by anti-Muslim discourse. Recent adoption of four "protection of race and religion" laws was a common theme of the ruling party, high-ranking authorities, and a nationalist religious group. The opposition filed complaints with the UEC regarding the misuse of religion in the campaign, but these were not addressed.

  • Out-of-constituency advance voting: The Center regrets that the casting of ballots by military, other security forces, and civil servants during out-of-constituency advance voting could not be observed. The lack of access to and opacity of this aspect of the balloting process is of particular concern, especially given the apparently large number of out-of-constituency votes in some areas. In order to strengthen confidence in this aspect of the election process, future elections should ensure that parties and observers have full access to all aspects of advance voting.
  • Participation of women: The number of female candidates was low. Only 800 of 6,039 candidates were women. While the UEC itself has only one female member, and sub-commissions have relatively few female members, at the polling station level, the election was largely administered by women. At polling stations visited, women constituted 75 percent of polling staff. Throughout election day, these women demonstrated their commitment to successful implementation of the voting and counting process.
  • Election observation: Although it was not required by law, the decision of the UEC to invite and accredit international and domestic observers and to provide broad access to the electoral process is a remarkable and positive change, and a bellwether of Myanmar's commitment to democratic reform. It is also a vital transparency measure that plays a critical role in improving public confidence in the process.

Carter Center observers were on the ground for almost a year before the elections and assessed pre-election conditions and preparations in all states and regions. On election day, Carter Center observers had broad access to all parts of the process, with only a few minor exceptions. Party agents were present in almost all polling stations visited, and domestic observers were present in 30 percent. While it did not impede our work, the obvious surveillance of observers by security forces on election day was unfortunate, and suggests some uncertainty about the commitment to fully transparent processes.

Post-election Observation: While the Center's observation reports on election day voting and counting processes are broadly positive, it is important to note that several key phases of the electoral process are still to be completed, including tabulation of results in some constituencies, the verification and publication of final official results, and the resolution of any electoral complaints that are filed. The Center's mission is ongoing, and observers will continue to assess these processes, with additional reports to be issued about these stages in the days to come.

Background: The Carter Center was invited by the UEC to observe the elections and received accreditation for 62 observers. The Center deployed observers to all states and regions, and they visited 245 polling stations on election day, as well as advance voting locations and results tabulation centers. The mission was co-led by Jason Carter, incoming chairman of the board of trustees of The Carter Center; Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland; and Bhojraj Pokharel, former chairman of Nepal's election commission. Carter Center observers came from 25 different countries.

The Center has had a presence in Myanmar since 2013 and began its long-term observation work in December 2014. The electoral observation mission, which continued the Center's ongoing observation work, was formally launched in August 2015 following the formal setting of the election date. Three teams of long-term observers were deployed throughout the country, with a core team of experts based in Yangon. The Center will remain in Myanmar to observe the tabulation process and resolution of electoral complaints.

The objectives of the Center's observation mission in Myanmar are to provide an impartial assessment of the overall quality of the electoral process, promote an inclusive process for all people of Myanmar, and demonstrate support for its ongoing transition. The electoral process is assessed against the country's legal framework, as well as international standards for genuine democratic elections.

The Center's observation mission is conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and Code of Conduct that was adopted in the United Nations in 2005 and is currently endorsed by over 50 organizations. This is the 101st election observed by The Carter Center.


"Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope."
A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, The Carter Center has helped to improve life for people in over 80 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; and improving mental health care. The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide.

Periscope | Carter Center Myanmar Press Conference

Carter Center Statement on Myanmar's Pre-Election Activities (PDF)

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