Rangoon (Mizzima) – Burmese President Thein Sein on Sunday called on all levels and branches of the government, political parties and voters to help make the April 1 by-election free and fair.
In a speech on state-run radio and television, he asked the public and government to make the by-election a landmark event.
He asked the Union Election Commission at all levels to try to resolve the issue of flawed voter rolls, which threaten to derail the fairness of the election because of rolls across the country containing the names of dead persons, the insane and voters who have moved from a constituency.
Thein Sein said victory or defeat will be decided by the voters.
He announced that international observers have been invited to monitor the elections, which are being carefully watched by the world as a test of the government’s commitment to democratic reforms. The April 1 by-elections will be the first held in the new governments era.
The election is being hotly contested by the National League for Democracy (NLD) party led by democratic icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who has said repeatedly in recent weeks that the election is close to being declared unfair because of government officials who have put obstacles in the path of NLD campaign activities. The most recent incident occurred on Saturday involving a local government branch’s refusal to allow her transportation on a larger vessel, confining her to many extra hours of travel to reach her speaking venue in southernmost Burma.
Mizzima reported last week that Suu Kyi has cited scores of voter registration problems and campaign abuses, saying campaign abuses threaten the fairness of the election. She said nearly 1,387 potential voters were left off the rolls in the constituency she is campaigning in.
“At this point, the voter lists in some constituencies were found to be incomplete and full of errors,” the National League for Democracy (NLD) party said in a statement. “It is hereby announced that these incidents can affect the emergence of a free and fair election.”
The NLD party, which will contest for 46 seats in the by-election, cited other instances of voter rolls having the names of dead persons, the insane and people listed who have moved from the district. The statement said campaign irregularities in Sagaing, Tanintharyi and Mandalay regions threaten to jeopardize a fair election.
An NLD statement cited specific actions of government-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) candidate Dr. San Win, who it said ordered villagers in Samyin village, Mingin Township, Sagaing Region, to send one family member to his party meeting on March 16. San Win also slandered Suu Kyi, according to the statement.
In Launglon Township in Tanintharyi Region, advance ballots were already being collected, the NLD said, although the Union Election Commission has said advanced ballots should be collected only after March 30-31.
Earlier, Suu Kyi told voters that the government was preventing the NLD from acquiring proper venues to hold campaign rallies.
The NLD’s evaluation of the fairness of the election is critical for the ruling government if it is to be declared free, fair and transparent, a requirement of western governments for the removal of further sanctions. This will be the second election in the country in the past two decades.
Suu Kyi, who is seeking a seat in Parliament, and the other 46 NLD candidates, have lent the by-election an aura of credibility, which appears to be threatened by recent abuses and campaign incidents.
The NLD said 54 villages in Suu Kyi’s constituency of Kawhmu, a poor area south of Rangoon, had a total of 413 dead people on the voter rolls. The government has not made available the voter lists for the capital, Naypyitaw, a stronghold of the USDP, it said.
The newly elected government decision to have international monitors is seen as a way to gain international approval; however, the monitors will arrive only three days before the election with hardly enough time to familiarize themselves with the rules and regulations. The election in 2010 was widely criticized as badly flawed amid accusations of ballot stuffing and other irregularities.