Myanmar election monitors voice poll concerns

Observers said instances of intimidation, sporadic physical attacks, error-riddled voter lists and rising ethnic and religious tensions were creating an "uneven" political environment ahead of the vote.
Observers said instances of intimidation, sporadic physical attacks, error-riddled voter lists and rising ethnic and religious tensions were creating an "uneven" political environment ahead of the vote.PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (AFP) - International monitors in Myanmar voiced concerns on Wednesday (Oct 28) over next month's crunch polls as the body charged with organising the election cancelled voting in several more villages, blaming fighting between the military and rebels.

Myanmar heads to the polls on Nov 8 in what observers and voters hope will be the fairest election in decades as the nation slowly shakes off years of brutal and isolating junta rule.

But the run-up to the polls has been marred by dirty tricks allegations, complaints over logistical readiness and concerns that some minority groups have been left out.

In a report released Wednesday, the Carter Center - one of several international groups monitoring the vote - said campaigning had been "peaceful and relatively unrestricted" over the last few weeks.

But their observers said instances of intimidation, sporadic physical attacks, error-riddled voter lists and rising ethnic and religious tensions were creating an "uneven" political environment ahead of the vote, seen as a litmus test of Myanmar's recent democratic reforms.

The organisation, which was founded by former US president Jimmy Carter and has monitored dozens of elections in nascent democracies, said it was also concerned that some parts of the country hit by unrest would be barred from voting.

"The announcement of cancellations of elections in a larger-than-expected number of villages has raised concerns about disenfranchisement," the report said.

The centre's comments came as the Union Election Commission (UEC) announced that recent fighting had made voting impossible in two more towns and 50 villages in eastern Shan State.

The decision swiftly drew criticism from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy party, which is running in the race.

It accused the UEC of bowing to pressure from the ruling party "which has no hope to win in elections" in the region, according to a statement.

Myanmar's border regions have long been beset by civil wars between ethnic rebel groups and the central government.

Large chunks of those areas will now not see any voting come election day.

Earlier this month the UEC said it was abandoning plans to hold voting in more than 400 villages in northern Kachin and Shan states as well as the eastern states of Mon and Karen, largely because of fighting.

In the volatile western state of Rakhine, most of the severely persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority there will also not be able to vote because they are controversially denied citizenship by the government.