SO how did Sunday’s voting in Burma (Myanmar) go? According to European Union’s observers quite well, actually. Two days after Burmese citizens cast their votes in the first relatively free election since 1990, the delegation sent by Brussels said the voting process was surprisingly smooth.
The officials said they were “impressed by the peaceful atmosphere at the polls and by the preparation of the officials.” In their official preliminary statement, the EU delegation says that “observers reported very positively on the voting process in polling stations, with 95 percent rating the process as good or very good.”
The opinions expressed on Tuesday morning seem to confirm what the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), another observing organization, told Asian Correspondent last week, when it said it had observed nothing that alarmed them in the weeks before the elections.
Even though these elections were expected to be much freer than in 2010, when the competition was heavily rigged, the observers’ positive comments came as a bit of a surprise, for fears that the elections could be manipulated by the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) were widespread in the months before the vote was cast.
Officials commented that while the voting is still going on and that it is too early to judge, a striking difference with these fears should be seen as a positive development.
Issues remain, however, starting with advanced voting. “Officials appeared unfamiliar with procedures, allowing a broader range of persons to vote than envisaged in the regulations,” the EU statement reads. “Out-of-constituency advance voting lacked transparency and due to the modalities for military voting the regular procedures were not applied.”
The legal framework in which the elections took place is also an issue. European officials told reporters that elections cannot be considered ‘fully democratic’ as the Constitution reserves 25 percent of seats in Parliament to officers handpicked by the Commander in Chief of the armed forces.
They also recalled that a significant part of the population was left out of the process. This was especially the case with Burma’s Muslim population: in Rakhine State alone, over a million Rohingyas, a Muslim ethnic minority, were not able to vote simply because the State does not recognize them as part of the country.
“We have won, the country will be totally different in one year. She will change everything.”
These issues are likely to loom large in coming weeks, when the election euphoria will fade and negotiations on how to form a new government and choosing a president will begin.
The 2008 Constitution bars Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president on the grounds that her offspring are British and delegates sweeping powers to the Commander in Chief of the army, who nominates three key ministers – Home Affairs, Defence and Border security.
Chapter 13 even allows the army to take over the civilian administration if a threat to national unity ensues, something that in theory would be extremely easy to do in a country where several insurgencies are ongoing.
This why it remains unclear how Aung San Suu Kyi will manage an eventual landslide victory, all the more so as many of her supporters nurture grand great expectations for the future.
“We have won, the country will be totally different in one year. She will change everything,” an NLD supported told Asian Correspondent on Monday night, as the first results were trickling in and Shwe Gon Daing Road, where the NLD has its headquarters, was transformed in an enormous feast.