Those Shadowy Advance Votes
covering burma and southeast asia
Sunday, June 16, 2024


Those Shadowy Advance Votes


A man looks at election material posted outside a polling station in central Rangoon on Nov. 7, when the people of Burma voted in the country’s first election in 20 years. ( Photo: REUTERS)
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In Maukmai, Shan State, for instance, scarcely three percent of the local electorate cast their ballots for the Shan State parliament on election day. However, advance votes and absentee ballots more than made up for this low turnout at polling stations. As in Shadaw, most of these votes went to the USDP rather than to its main local rival, the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party. Interestingly, all 189 votes cast on Nov. 7 were rejected by the local EC, meaning that the final outcome was based entirely on advance and absentee votes.

If there is any chance at all of charges of vote rigging being addressed, it is in Burma’s urban constituencies, where some candidates have been outspoken in challenging the official results. The most notable example is Rangoon’s South Okkalapa Township, where Dr. Saw Naing, an independent candidate for a seat in the Rangoon Division parliament, was declared the winner the day after the election, only to see the seat go to his USDP opponent.

Saw Naing’s case is indeed unusual. As vote counting neared completion on Nov. 7, the local EC gave Saw Naing a 600-vote lead. The next morning, however, he was informed that he had lost after advance votes were counted. But this result was again reversed later that day, when the EC confirmed that he had won, albeit by a margin of just six votes. He signed a form certifying his victory, but was shocked to discover that this result was overturned again the next day, when he noticed that his rival was declared the winner on a list officially announcing the final results.

Since then, he has repeatedly demanded an investigation into his case. As one of the handful of candidates who cooperated with efforts by the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) to document cases of electoral fraud, Saw Naing said he wanted the junta to “review the [NLD’s] report and discuss it with the candidates.”

“If the regime is not going to discuss the NLD report, I will be dissatisfied,” he said on Nov. 30, the day the NLD—which was forcibly disbanded earlier this year for refusing to take part in the election—completed the first draft of the report.  

On Dec. 5, Saw Naing continued his crusade, sending a letter to the regime’s top general, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, to ask him to intervene. Three days later, he was summoned again by the local EC and ordered to sign a form conceding the contest to Aung Kyaw Moe.

Even within the NUP, which officially recognized the USDP’s victory even before the final results were announced, there were murmurs of discontent over the way the regime-backed party prevailed. 

“We competed and campaigned fairly, but they defeated us by illegal means,” said San Lwin, an NUP candidate for Tharrawaddy Township in Pegu Division, soon after the election.

Despite expectations that the NUP—which was trounced by the NLD in 1990—would give the USDP a run for its money, the party won just 63 parliamentary seats in this year’s vote. That gave it around 5.4 percent of the total, compared to the 76.5 percent claimed by the USDP.

Many of the seats “won” by the USDP were uncontested; many others were gained through advance votes, which were often acquired through means that would not be recognized as legitimate by international standards.

“In far too many cases, advance ballots were collected door-to-door, a blatant violation of the principle of the secret ballot and a situation ripe for voter intimidation,” said the Asian Network for Free Elections in a Dec. 7 statement calling for comprehensive electoral reform in Burma.

It seems, then, that Shadaw was not so exceptional after all, but rather a fairly typical example of how the USDP managed to sweep Burma’s first election in 20 years, setting the stage for a new, quasi-civilian government backed by the leaders of the current regime.

However, with the shadow of a rigged election hanging over it, the USDP will have its work cut out for it to convince the Burmese people and the rest of the world that its “victory” is indeed a step in the right direction for a country that has not known democracy for nearly half a century.

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