Poll Watchdog Questions Burma Vote Fraud

The Thailand-based Asian Network For Free Elections has sharply criticized Nov. 7 elections in Burma, saying many advance votes were taken outside the official time frame and that "the counting of ballots has raised many questions that demand an answer." Anfrel's concerns were borne out by a team of undercover journalists inside Burma who risked prison time to report on the election for independent international media. One of those reports, by Mon Mon Myat, who managed to monitor the counting process from a single polling station, appears here. If what she saw is repeated across the country, it indicates that even despite the junta's overwhelming rigging of the election by giving a quarter of the seats to the army and disqualifying meaningful participation by supporters of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the military sought to copper its bets through fraud.

In addition to Anfrel's concerns, Burma's censorship board, the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division, banned domestic media from reporting any vote-rigging in the wake of the election. On Monday, Weekly Eleven, a private news journal in Rangoon, apologized to its readers, saying it regretted not being able to publish a 12-page special report on the election as it had planned.

ANFREL, as the organization is known, was established in 1997 to monitor elections across Asia. It has worked in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia,, Cambodia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, East Timor and Indonesia. The NGO said it is crucial for election officials and the junta "clarify these questions raised by people from inside and outside Burma:

  • Why was there advance voting taken and counted before the designated period of the 5th & 6th of November? Shouldn't such voting be considered illegal?

  • Where were ballot papers, for both the advanced voting and for polling day, stored and was any security provided for them? Were party agents not from the USDP allowed to witness the counting at the township office?

  • Did polling station officers announce to the public on November 7th separate results from the advance voting period and those ballots that came from polling day?

  • When was the counting of official advance voting (i.e. those from the 5th-6th of Nov.) done and where was it done?

  • Did the election commission at the ward and township level store those ballots used in the advance-voting period in a safe place with neutral security to safeguard them?

  • Did the poll officer mix up the advance voting ballots with the polling day ballots and count them together without informing the public of the amount of the ballots that they received from the ward or township offices?

  • Was there an announcement of the totals of valid, invalid, spoiled, unused, legal and illegal advanced voting at the polling station in front of neutral witnesses? Were any stakeholders invited to observe this process?"

The organization called on the election commission to "heed the call of Myanmar's citizens and political parties who implore the commission to ensure a transparent counting process. Where there have been complaints about advance voting fraud or an opaque counting process, the UEC must thoroughly investigate these claims while refusing to certify any results until their investigations are complete."The censorship board in military-ruled Burma, the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD), has said that media may not publish or air reports about nationwide vote rigging in Sunday's election, according to sources.

An editor from the PSRD reportedly said opposition candidates told domestic media about vote rigging in the election, which was dominated by the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), but the PSRD will not allow media groups to carry such reports.

"The PSRD told us that with regard to election news, we would be allowed to carry only official news issued by the Union Election Commission (EC). A PSRD editor said that even news about voters casting their ballots wouldn't be permitted, or if we said the turnout was low," said a production editor at a private news journal.

On Monday, Weekly Eleven, a private news journal in Rangoon, carried an apology to its reader saying that the journal regretted not being able to publish a 12-page special report on the election as it had planned.

The Weekly Eleven website, which has published timely information on the election, was reportedly inaccessible on Monday evening.

Reporters inside Burma said that based on unofficial election results, the USDP seems to have won the vast majority of the seats in parliament, and the domestic media will likely face more censorship challenges in the future.

"Since the USDP-led government will rule the country, it is pretty sure the PSRD will remain active. There will be no freedom of information and literature, and the journalism situation in Burma could be worse," said a reporter in Rangoon.

In areas where advance vote totals reveal irregularities or manipulation, a re-vote should be scheduled and those responsible for the manipulation, whether they are officials of the local government office, a party, or the local Election Commission, should be held accountable.

ANFREL respectfully but firmly requests that the UEC and the SPDC act now to save what little legitimacy the election has left by making the counting process more transparent, properly dealing with fraudulent advance votes, and, where necessary, holding a re-vote in all problematic constituencies to correct the flaws in the voting and counting process.