The Burmese government has defended itself against accusations of bias at overseas advance voting sites after reports circulated suggesting scenes of chaos and mismanagement at embassies around the world in recent days.
On Friday, Union Election Commission (UEC) Chairman Tin Aye dismissed allegations that the commission intentionally allowed irregularities on voter lists and ballots, and counter-accused critics of “attempting to nullify the results of the upcoming elections.”
Speaking at a meeting with British Ambassador Andrew Patrick, Tin Aye said the UEC is following official electoral laws and procedures to ensure free and fair elections.
State media on Friday requested voters abroad “be patient with inconveniences,” admitting that the country had “weak experience” in election management and limited staff at embassies.
Polls opened for overseas Burmese nationals last week, allowing expatriates to vote in secret more than three weeks ahead of the November 8 election day. Only around 30,000 Burmese abroad are registered to vote out of some four to six million citizens of Myanmar who live or work abroad. Most Burmese overseas work illegally or do not have work permits, hence they are disenfranchised from voting or prefer to stay under the radar of officialdom.
Around two-thirds of all advance voters are in Singapore, where hundreds have queued overnight outside the embassy in the city-state. Several who spoke to DVB complained that they were unable to cast ballots because their names did not appear on the voters list.
A 20-year-old Burmese woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said through tears: “I applied to vote two months ago and followed the procedures. Now all the time I spent is wasted.”
One video that went viral on social media shows a woman passing out after describing a long wait that ended when she was informed her name wasn’t on the list.
Another 20-year-old Burmese resident in Singapore said he too was denied the right to vote because his name did not appear on the list.
“I have all the documents and ID necessary and am eligible to vote, but my name was not on any voter list,” he said. “I’m very disappointed. I spoke to Ambassador U Zaw Tun Shein and he denied that the lists were prepared by government officials.
“I asked him when I would be able to vote, and he said he didn’t know. He said he would write a letter of complaint.”
In Tokyo, 1,078 Burmese are registered as advance voters, less than 10 percent of the estimated Burmese population in Japan.
Speaking to DVB on condition of anonymity from the Japanese capital, an ethnic Shan woman from Taunggyi said she was only able to cast ballots for two of the four parliamentary candidates in her constituency.
“I was told I could only vote for two of the four seats. As I am a Shan national, I should have four votes [Upper House, Lower House, regional assembly and ethnic representative], but I was only given ballots for the regional assembly and Upper House candidates,” she said.
Due to the number of complaints, the embassy in Tokyo has extended the timeframe for advance voting until October 23.
In London, a Burmese man who also wished to remain anonymous told Burma Campaign UK on Sunday that “the embassy staff were welcoming and seemed reasonably efficient, the actual vote was a shambles.”
He reported that of about 100 Burmese citizens who he witnessed turning up to cast ballots in London, about 30 could not vote. In addition, he said, some voters did not receive the correct amount of ballots, and the envelopes used to contain the ballot papers did not seal correctly.
However, perhaps of even greater concern was the man’s allegation that the ballot papers themselves contain mistakes.
Allegedly, about 20 voters at the London embassy were from the constituency of Thingangyun where renowned activist and blogger Nay Phone Latt is contesting a seat on behalf of the National League for Democracy.
“So they expected to find his name on their ballot paper, but instead it was a different NLD candidate – Myatt Nyan Soe from Tamwe,” the man said. “It seems that not only do the voter lists have errors, but so do the ballots.”
Kyi Pyar Khine, an ethnic Shan woman from Pyin Oo Lwin, who is now a UK resident, confirmed that she cast votes for all four parliamentary seats in her constituency, but said she witnessed other Burmese being unable to vote.
“The embassy staff just said that the lists were prepared by election officials in Burma. They didn’t provide any further explanation. It was not a good enough answer,” she said.
Burmese voters in South Korea also complained about similar experiences. The embassy in Seoul released a statement explaining that some citizens were unable to vote for all the seats in their constituencies as their voter registration forms had not arrived on time or were sent to the wrong embassy.
In Thailand, where some two to four million Burmese work, only 560 persons had successfully registered as advance voters.
One was DVB studio technician Dpar Aung, 29, who voted at the Burmese consulate in Chiang Mai. He said the whole process was quick and smooth, although he pointed out that he was the only voter at the polling station on Saturday morning. On Monday, state-run media again defended the advance voting process; the Global New Light of Myanmar trumpeted: “No bias in advance voting” in its home page headline.
It said that up until Saturday, 11,906 votes had been successfully cast overseas.
The UEC issued a further statement, urging Burmese overseas who had been unable to cast ballots to get recommendations from their respective embassies so that they could try voting again on election day.
Photo of line in Singapore / Coconuts Media