Myanmar to extend voting deadline over ballot mix-up

YANGON • Myanmar plans to extend the advance voting deadline for overseas voters in the November polls following a raft of complaints and mistakes, including ballots marked for Japan being sent to Egypt, state media said yesterday.

Only a fraction of the country's millions-strong diaspora are eligible to take part in the advance ballot, and the chaos will do little to quell concerns over the country's ability to hold nationwide polls on Nov 8.

Talks are under way to revise the cut-off date tomorrow for casting an advance ballot, especially in Singapore, Tokyo and Seoul, which have registered the highest number of grievances, according to the state-run The Global New Light of Myanmar.

"The ballots for the Myanmar embassy in Tokyo were sent to its embassy in Egypt," deputy foreign affairs minister Thant Kyaw was cited by the newspaper as saying in an article that admitted that major mistakes had been made.

Overseas Myanmar nationals have also complained of incomplete voter lists, leaving some unable to cast their ballots, and not enough ballot papers being sent to some voting centres.

No date has been agreed for a vote extension.

After decades of brutal junta rule and economic mismanagement, millions of Myanmar nationals have fled or moved overseas.

But only around 30,000 nationals in 37 countries are registered for advance voting, the Union Election Commission (UEC) said last week.

Some voters in Singapore camped overnight last Friday on the pavement outside the embassy to stake a place in snaking queues for a chance to have their say.

Nearly 20,000 voters had cast advance votes for the much-anticipated Nov 8 polls by Monday, The Global New Light of Myanmar said.

The UEC has requested voters to be patient with advance voting, admitting that problems were down to "weak experience in holding elections".

The road to the polls - billed as the fairest in decades - has been potholed with challenges. The impoverished country stretches from towering peaks in the north to southern tropical beaches, connected by poor infrastructure, blighted by myriad ethnic conflicts and recent devastating floods.

Last week, the UEC raised alarm by floating the idea of delaying the polls over the recent flooding, later deciding to go ahead as planned, after Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) rejected the suggestion.

The NLD, contesting its first general election in 25 years, is expected to sweep the polls, if they are fair. The party won the 1990 elections, but the results were ignored by the junta. The NLD boycotted the flawed 2010 elections, which returned the military-backed party to power. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2015, with the headline 'Myanmar to extend voting deadline over ballot mix-up'. Subscribe