Long queues lead to cap on Myanmar voters

Madam Khin Lay, one of the volunteers giving updates to those waiting in line yesterday at the embassy.
Madam Khin Lay, one of the volunteers giving updates to those waiting in line yesterday at the embassy.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

There were scenes of confusion at the Myanmar Embassy yesterday as thousands of Myanmar citizens, waiting in line to cast their votes for their country's general election, were told they would not get the chance to do so.

Embassy officials, overwhelmed by the sheer numbers, told the crowd that only the first 3,000 people could vote that day. The rest would have to join the queue again today, which was initially the last day for voting here.

But all in the queue stood their ground, and the officials agreed eventually to extend the voting period at least till Wednesday, The Sunday Times understands.

Yesterday's queue had started at midnight, stretching from the embassy in St Martin's Drive all the way to Tanglin Road. By the afternoon, the line snaked all the way to Treetops Executive Residences in Orange Grove Road.

Volunteers turned up to coordinate and pass updates to the crowd. They also brought items such as food, water, ice cream and wet wipes, to help make the wait a more pleasant one.

Those in line stood for hours despite the hot weather, as the Nov 8 election marks the first time that many Myanmar nationals can have a say over who governs their country. Voting for overseas citizens began last Thursday, but crowds peaked yesterday, with even more expected to turn up today, when many get their day off.

However, the embassy capped the number who can vote yesterday, informing those in line only at 11am . Embassy officials gave out tokens - small pieces of paper stamped with the Myanmar state seal - to the first 3,000 people in the queue. Only those who had it could enter the embassy to vote.

Later in the day, at 3.20pm, embassy officials, accompanied by auxiliary police officers, started handing out another 3,000 tokens giving people the right to vote today.

One volunteer, Ms Wint Yi, 31, had voted last Friday but returned to help disburse updates.

She said: "The 3,000 quota was decided because the embassy managed to process about 3,152 votes on Friday. They decided to cap it at that number, because the process inside the embassy is very slow."

Mechanical engineer Soe Htet, 37, had stood in line with his wife and sister since 5am yesterday. But he and his sister narrowly missed out on the first batch of 3,000 tokens - his wife, standing just ahead, was the last to receive the token to vote yesterday.

"This system is really not right." he said. "The embassy knows exactly how many Myanmar citizens are eligible to vote here, and they know their own capacity. They should have planned for this and announced it at the beginning."

The crowd finally broke up at 5pm, when volunteers informed potential voters that all 3,000 tokens had been issued for voting today.

About 20,000 Myanmar nationals in Singapore submitted their request to vote in advance, one of the volunteers here said, quoting the embassy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 18, 2015, with the headline 'Long queues lead to cap on Myanmar voters'. Print Edition | Subscribe