Sun, Nov 08, 2015 - Page 5 News List

Myanmar vote monitored

THE CARTER CENTER:Today’s poll in Myanmar is to be observed by 70 of former US president Jimmy Carter’s election monitors to ensure voting is transparent and fair

AP, YANGON, Myanmar

A staff member of the Myanmar Election Commission, center, prepares ballot papers as people wait yesterday during advance voting at a polling station in Myitkyina township.

Photo: EPA

Afflicted by cancer, former US president Jimmy Carter will not be present for Myanmar’s watershed election today, but the center he founded will, monitoring a vote in a crisis-ridden corner of the world for the 101st time to ensure polling is free and credible.

The Carter Center’s 70 monitors, supported by local personnel, are the first Americans to monitor an election in this Southeast Asian country, ruled by the military for half a century and still under its long shadow. The government’s invitation reflects how much US-Myanmar ties have improved since tentative reforms were introduced in 2011.

“This election is an important one in Myanmar’s ongoing democratic transition. We are pleased and honored to be here,” said Jason Carter delegation co-leader and grandson of the former US president.

They have plenty of company. In stark contrast to decades past, the government has opened its doors wide to observers from 28 countries, who together with local watchdogs number about 11,000.

US-based Democracy International president Eric Bjornlund said that the Carter Center stands out because of pioneering election work in 38 countries in which it helped establish international norms and introduced innovative techniques. It was also a prime mover in the adoption of the Declaration of Principles for International Observation.

“Carter has single-handedly elevated the significance and the professionalism of the practice of election observation,” said Bjornlund, also the author of Beyond Fair and Free: Monitoring Elections and Building Democracy.

The 91-year-old former US president and Nobel peace laureate has taken part in many election-monitoring missions, most recently in Guyana in May. Three months later, he announced that melanoma cancer had spread to his liver and brain and has since been undergoing treatment. During a moving press conference he said he had enjoyed a wonderful life and was “looking forward to new adventure.”

Carter has scaled back his work with the Atlanta-based center, which tackles everything from fighting Guinea worm disease to seeking a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

However, the center says he is still keeping tabs on Myanmar, where the group’s head of monitoring teams, Jonathan Stonestreet, said that the election officials are “open with us and very welcoming, but there are some gaps in transparency.”

The ruling, military-backed Burmese United Solidarity and Development Party faces a strong challenge from Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party. Support for the NLD appears strong in much of the country, but there are concerns that vote-rigging could skew the official result.

Election monitors can not be everywhere: There are about four polling stations for every observer.

“Places where there are observers, the government will make sure the elections are run properly. In places where they are not, that’s where cheating will take place,” said Hkun Kyi Myint, a village elder in southeastern Karen state.

In a briefing for election monitors, a Carter Center legal analyst, Meaghan Fitzgerald, said that there are fewer election safeguards in place for people who must vote outside their hometowns — notably soldiers on military bases, where commanders control voting procedures.

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