Advance voting kicks off in Myanmar ahead of Nov 8 polls

Member of staff at a polling station check ID cards as they prepare for advance voting at a ward administration office on the outskirts of Yangon on Oct 29, 2015.
Member of staff at a polling station check ID cards as they prepare for advance voting at a ward administration office on the outskirts of Yangon on Oct 29, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (AFP) - Advance voting kicked-off in Myanmar on Thursday (Oct 29) for those unable to cast a ballot in their constituencies on polling day next week, many of whom are soldiers and civil servants.

The early ballot comes after the country's overseas nationals cast advance votes earlier this month ahead of the Nov 8 polls trumpeted as Myanmar's freest and fairest in decades.

But some international election monitors have raised concerns over the transparency of the advance vote, which in the last 2010 general elections was marred by allegations of widespread fraud.

At a polling station in Tharketa township on the outskirts of Yangon Thursday, officials said they had nearly 7,000 people on their list as they waited for voters to arrive.

Sub-commission chairman Aung Tin, 74, described the voter lists, which have previously been decried by opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) activists for their litany of errors, as "80-per cent perfect".

Observers from both the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party and Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) were in place to watch proceedings.

"Everything is ready," said NLD monitor and writer Thein Htay, adding that the elections marked "the hope of every single person in the country".

But concerns have been mounting over transparency and religious conflict ahead of the widely-anticipated polls, which Suu Kyi's party is tipped to win if fair.

In a report released Wednesday, the US-based Carter Centre - one of several international groups monitoring the vote - said "observers will not have access to the casting of ballots during out-of constituency advance voting, including in military installations".

Last week European Union observers - a bigger monitoring mission than Carter - said they would be given access to voting on military bases.

Tens of thousands of soldiers are expected to take part in voting at military bases before the election, because they are stationed far from their home constituencies.

The NLD's main rival is the army-backed USDP party, which supports current president Thein Sein.

Advance voting will end on Nov 7, unlike in 2010 that controversially saw advance-voter ballots arrive on polling day, as well as accusations of some arriving after polls closed, sparking concerns of ballot stuffing.