Myanmar polls a qualified success, say foreign observers

Fans with pictures of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi being sold at a souvenir shop outside the NLD office in Yangon yesterday. The NLD leader said the polls had been free, but not fair. Observers note the army has 25 per cent of seats reserved for it in the nat
Fans with pictures of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi being sold at a souvenir shop outside the NLD office in Yangon yesterday. The NLD leader said the polls had been free, but not fair. Observers note the army has 25 per cent of seats reserved for it in the national and regional legislatures.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

They rate transparency, credibility of process highly but note flaws like no access by observers to advance voting

International observers have given Myanmar's historic election a qualified but enthusiastic seal of approval, while stressing that counting, tabulation and dispute settlement remains a work in progress.

The election was monitored by more than 1,000 foreign and around 10,000 local observers. The 150-strong European Union mission - the biggest foreign team - gave the process a 95 per cent approval rating, saying it had been "better than expected" in terms of transparency and credibility.

The US-based Carter Centre, which deployed 62 observers, said: "Despite flaws, Myanmar appears to be on a positive trajectory towards a peaceful, democratic transition.

"To maintain this trajectory, it is important for all actors to engage in a dialogue and consensus-seeking process to identify constructive steps towards lasting peace and reconciliation."

Former Ireland president Mary Robinson, part of the Carter Centre team, said: "I warmly congratulate the people of Myanmar for their extraordinary commitment to move this country forward. The people of Myanmar have been empowered."

ROAD TO PEACEFUL TRANSITION

Despite flaws, Myanmar appears to be on a positive trajectory towards a peaceful, democratic transition. To maintain this trajectory, it is important for all actors to engage in a dialogue and consensus-seeking process to identify constructive steps towards lasting peace and reconciliation.

THE US-BASED CARTER CENTRE, which deployed 62 observers to the election. The election was monitored by more than 1,000 foreign and around 10,000 domestic observers.

There were flaws, including no access by observers to advance voting; anti-Muslim sentiment and the use of race- and religion-based rhetoric in campaigns; and some delay and lack of transparency in posting results. "We have to acknowledge that Myanmar's democratic transition is incomplete and ongoing," said Mr Jason Carter, incoming chair of the Carter Centre's board - and grandson of former US president Jimmy Carter.

Many procedural issues were minor and put down to inexperience. Transparency - with so many observers given access and political party agents present at polling stations - was lauded.

Opposition National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi told the BBC in an interview that the polls had been free, but not fair. The observers made the same point in the context of the army's 25 per cent reserved block in the national and regional legislatures. 

But the EU in its statement said voters turned out in large numbers and "calmly cast their votes in a generally well-run process, with secrecy of the vote respected". 

"In the vast majority of cases, polling stations opened on time and were well prepared. Most voters... found their names on the voter list, but in 7 per cent of polling stations visited, some absences on the list were observed." However, the process went "better than expected" and voting list errors - a major worry before the election - were less of an issue than had been feared.

The EU's observer mission will remain in the country watching the counting, tabulation and dispute resolution process, until Dec 2.

"This election is not over yet, as long as counting and tabulating is going on," team leader Alexander Lambsdorff, vice-president of the European Parliament, told journalists. But he added that "the country has come a long way".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2015, with the headline 'Myanmar polls a qualified success, say foreign observers'. Print Edition | Subscribe