Myanmar’s elections were held on November 8, 2015 as officially announced by the Union Election Commission (UEC) on July 8, 2015. They were the second national elections since the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) was dissolved by multi-party elections in 2010. Twenty years prior, the results of Burma’s 1990 general elections were overturned by the military regime after the National League for Democracy (NLD) won in a landslide.
Although the 2010 elections brought a new political landscape, social and political spaces were still very limited. In this context, the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections (PACE) was founded in 2013 to create a space for citizens to engage the newly opened electoral process and to advance electoral reforms. PACE was the first organization in Myanmar’s history to be accredited with the UEC as a nonpartisan election observation group, since domestic observation became legal in 2015.
In order to promote the integrity of the election and to build public confidence in the process, PACE observed the long-term electoral process, including the update of the voter list, the campaign environment, voting and counting before and on election day, the tabulation process and the electoral complaints system. In total, PACE engaged over 2,200 citizen volunteers to participate in the electoral process as observers.
Overall, the elections were peaceful, competitive and open for voters to participate. Interest in the election appeared high with people across the country arriving early to wait in line on election day. The campaign environment was generally free of violence and intimidation, and candidates were able to reach potential voters to compete for their votes. For the most part, the elections were administered competently, but there were some inconsistencies in implementation of policies at the local level and last minute changes in the electoral timeline. Civil society, media and international organizations were able to actively engage in the election process as observers, voter educators and election watchers to a greater degree than previous elections. Although some complaints were filed, the outcome of the elections were generally accepted by the public and political parties.
Credible elections are an essential step in the democratization process of transitional countries. Especially in Myanmar, where people have been isolated from the political process for nearly half a century, elections are important to create opportunities for the people to re engage in public affairs. Credible elections are also an important mechanism to include citizens, especially ethnic nationalities, into the national reconciliation and nation building process.
In May 2008, Myanmar’s military government held a referendum to endorse a new constitution as part of the “Seven Step-Road Map” and amid the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. The process of drafting the Constitution, as well as key articles of the Constitution – such as 25% of reserved parliamentary seats for military personnel, power distribution between state/regions and the center, and amendment procedures – are viewed as problematic by much of the public. Debates among political leaders continue as to whether or not constitutional amendments are necessary to complete the country’s transition to full democracy.
Following the passage of the 2008 Constitution, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) organized parliamentary elections on November 7, 2010. The 2010 elections were criticized as failing to meet international standards of transparency and inclusiveness. Few independent media and independent observers were active, prominent political leaders were in prison, and freedom of movement and speech were seriously restricted. The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), led in large part by former military generals, won by large margins.
In March 2011, the SPDC transferred the power to the civilian USDP-led government, which initiated political and economic liberalization reforms. After releasing prominent political leaders, the government organized a by-election in 2012 bringing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) into the parliament with 43 out of 44 seats.
In this context, Myanmar approached the 2015 elections amidst a number of serious challenges. Many feared that religious conflict between Buddhists and Muslims—particularly in Rakhine State—would become a serious problem in the elections. Further, the controversial decision of the cancellation of temporary cards holders resulted in hundreds of thousands of people, especially ethnic minorities, losing their right to vote.
Additionally, long-held tensions and clashes between ethnic armed groups and the Tamadaw (Myanmar military) continued throughout 2014 and 2015. Amid clashes, the government resumed the peace talks with ethnic armed groups, leading to uncertainty about how conflict issues would impact the elections. About one month before the election, the government managed to get only eight out of 16 groups to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Accord (NCA).
Despite these challenges, interest in the elections remained high. The public showed their enthusiasm to vote in the 2015 elections -- 82% said they had the intention to vote according to an Electoral Environment Survey conducted by PACE in May 2015. High numbers of candidates and political parties registered to compete in the elections. Over 100 civil society organizations and international organizations successfully lobbied the UEC to legalize nonpartisan election observation for the first time in Myanmar’s history.
Amid these circumstances, the 2015 elections were seen as an important turning point for Myanmar’s political transition. The polls were widely viewed as a litmus test not only for the country’s political reform process and institutional strength, but also for civil society and political parties.
The official campaign period began on September 8, 2015 and ended at midnight on November 6th. Candidates and political parties campaigned for seats around the country under the framework of the UEC’s campaign guidelines. The UEC extended the campaign period from 30 days to 60 days in June 2014 after consultations with political parties.
As the pre-election environment is one of the most important factors to assess the quality and credibility of the electoral process, PACE deployed 129 Long-Term-Observers (LTOs) to 129 townships to observe the campaign environment. One hundred nine (109) of those 129 townships were selected across all states and regions in proportion to the number of polling stations there. The other 20 townships were selected to show the campaign environment in “hot spot” areas, including places with high profile candidates, a history of problematic elections, a high number of migrant workers, and on-going conflict or inter-communal tensions. To assess the campaign environment, PACE LTOs interviewed candidates, local election sub-commission officials, and voters each week. LTOs also observed local rallies and reported on any serious incidents in their township.
According to PACE observations, the campaign environment was peaceful and stable despite a few isolated incidents, including attacks on candidates and party supports, and violations of campaign law and code of conduct, and interference in campaign activity. PACE’s voter interviews showed that most voters were interested in the campaign and in voting, though migrant and low-income workers appeared less interested than other voters. In general, voters interviewed said people felt free to participate in campaign activities and vote for the candidate of their choice. PACE’s candidate interviews showed that they were able to organize their campaigns freely and that sub-commissions officials were generally treating candidates equally. Candidates relied on more traditional means of campaigning, such as parades, rallies and distributing pamphlets, while few candidates used IT technology such as email, SMS as campaign tools. Rallies were mostly peaceful but there were a few reports on using inciting comments about other candidates or about religion, race or gender during the campaign by multiple parties and candidates.
From September 8-November 1, PACE conducted 5,280 voter interviews across the country. To collect a variety of viewpoints, PACE LTOs interviewed people in urban wards and rural villages. They also interviewed certain types of voters, like women, ethnic minorities, youth, and migrant/low-income workers. PACE asked voters about campaign activities in their area, about the attitudes of average people in their area, and whether or not voters in that area felt free to participate in the election. Although PACE met with thousands of voters, the information from voter interviews cannot be generalized to all voters in Myanmar because it did not follow random survey methodology.
Voter perception of campaign activity
Nearly 50% of voters interviewed said that there were “some” campaign activities in their area. 15% said there was “a lot” of campaign activities, while 29% said that there was little to no campaign activities in their area. Voters interviewed during the final month of the campaign said there were more campaign activities than voters interviewed in the first month of the campaign. Voters in urban areas noted more campaign activities than voters in rural areas.
Voter interest in the elections
Sixty-nine percent (69%) of voters interviewed said that people in their area were interested in the election, while 13% said they were not interested and 18% said they didn’t know. Interest in the election appeared to grow as the election drew nearer: 77% of people interviewed in the final month of the campaign said their community was interested, compared with only 63% in the first month of the campaign. Women voters, ethnic voters and migrant/low income voters interviewed expressed a slightly lower level of interest in elections.
Voter participation in campaign events
PACE LTOs asked voters if people in their area felt free to attend campaign events for the party that they like. Seventy eight percent (78%) of people interviewed said that people felt free to join campaign events, while 3% said they did not feel free and 19% said they didn’t know. Voters interviewed during the final month of the campaign were more likely to report that people felt free to participate. Women and migrant and low-income workers were slightly less likely to say that voters in their area felt free to attend campaign events. There was no notable difference between young and old voters interviewed.
Voter interest in voting
PACE asked voters if many people in their area wanted to vote: 75% of people interviewed said “yes,” while 4% said “no” and 21% said they “didn’t know.” In the final month of the campaign, voters were more likely to answer “Yes,” possibly demonstrating that interest in the elections increased as they grew nearer. Urban voters, men, and Bamar were more likely to say that voters in their area wanted to vote. Migrant and low-income workers were less likely than other types of voters to say that voters in the area wanted to vote.
Voters casting a vote for the candidate or party they like
PACE LTOs asked voters if people in their area felt free to vote for the candidate or party that they like. Eighty percent (80%) of voters interviewed said “yes,” 2% said “no,” while 18% said they “didn’t know.” Women were less likely than men to answer “yes.” Migrant and low-income workers were also less likely to say that yes, people in their area felt free to vote for the candidate or party they liked.
Voters facing problems for voting for certain parties
PACE LTOs asked voters if people in their area faced any problems if they were to vote for certain political parties. Eighty-four percent (84%) of voters interviewed said that people in their area faced no problems, 3% said they faced problems in their job/business, and 1% of voters said they faced problems with friends and family, vote buying/bribes, or physical threats or harm. Less than 1% of voters interviewed said that people in their area faced problems with property damage. Four percent (4%) of voters mentioned other kinds of problems, while 8% said they didn’t know. Women were more likely than men to say that people faced some problems if they voted for a certain political party. Migrant and low income workers were also more likely to say people in their area faced some problems.
From September 8-November 1, PACE LTOs conducted 3,291 interviews with candidates from four party categories: the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP); the National League for Democracy (NLD); other big parties in the township (for example, other national parties that are popular in that township like the National Unity Party (NUP), or could be local or state level parties that are strong in that township like that Arakan National Party (ANP); and small parties and independents (PACE places independents and small parties in the same category as they lack the support and structure of a large party apparatus). In weekly interviews, PACE asked candidates questions about their campaign activities and challenges that they encountered. The information below represents the perceptions of individual candidates interviewed. This information does not include activities or viewpoints of party headquarters, other party supporters or other groups and does not include information from townships where PACE did not observe. It is important to stress that this includes information about activities conducted directly by candidates between September 8 and November 1.
Activities of Candidates
Of the candidates PACE interviewed, the most common outreach activities were distributing materials (27%), hanging posters (21%) and holding rallies (22%). The next most common form of outreach was parades/loudspeakers (12%) or door-to-door outreach (9%). Very few candidates said they used technology or media to reach voters, with only 1% using email, SMS and phone calls, media appearances or paid advertising to reach voters. This data does not capture outreach activities taken by parties’ central committees or by other party supporters.
Among those interviewed, candidates from all party categories undertook outreach activities at similar rates. However, parades and loudspeakers were most used by NLD and USDP, and less used by other big parties and small parties/independents. Among those interviewed, women candidates were more likely to hold rallies than men candidates.
Of those interviewed, candidates did not report any significant problems in the rally approval process. Nearly all candidates from all party categories said their rallies were approved. More than 95% of candidates said their rallies were approved without changes, while just under 5% of candidates from all party types reported that they were asked to change some details of their plan. Two percent (2%) of candidates said they filed complaints about the approval process. PACE did not find any significant differences between candidates from the four party categories or between men and women candidates. However, there were media reports on the incidents of the lack of proper management on using public spaces so that there were overlapping campaign activities at the same location.
Interference in the Campaign
In candidate interviews, PACE asked candidates if they faced any problems in the campaign (such as physical intimidation, interference in their campaign, threats to their safety/property, personal problems with their family or business, etc.). Nearly all (96%) candidates said they did not encounter problems. Those who did say they faced problems most often noted interference in campaign activities, such as destroyed campaign materials or local authorities stopping rallies. This was the case for candidates from all party categories. Women candidates were slightly more likely to say they faced problems in campaigning than men candidates.
Although most candidates said they did not face serious problems, there were isolating but concerning incidents in the campaign process. Some candidates and supporters from the NLD were physically attacked. Further, the NLD’s candidate in Cocokyun was not able to campaign for much of the campaign period due to restrictions in access to the naval base island constituency. There were also media reports on intimidation and sexist comments about women candidates (also see PACE findings on inflammatory comments during campaign messaging below).
From September 8-November 6, PACE observed 2,186 rallies of candidates from four party categories: USDP, NLD, other big parties in the township, and small parties and independents. As PACE was observing only official rallies, observers did not track comments on social media or at private meetings. In some locations, PACE could not observe rallies in very remote locations due to logistical challenges. Additionally, the information below represents the rallies observed only in the townships where PACE was active.
Conduct of Rallies
Of rallies observed by PACE, most were held at private offices/homes (40%), religious places (17%), public spaces, like markets or parks (11%), party offices (10%), or “other” places (16%). Very few campaign events were held in sports stadiums/fields (4%) or government buildings (2%). Less than 1% of observed rallies were held at industrial places.
The NLD and USDP were more likely to use their party offices compared to other big parties and small parties/independents. The NLD, other big parties and small parties/independents were more likely to use public spaces (like park, market, etc.) than the USDP. At rallies observed by PACE, the USDP, other big parties, and small parties/independents were more likely than the NLD to hold rallies in religious places. All four party types held rallies at government buildings at a similar rate.
At most rallies observed, candidates handed out printed materials (28%) and “other” items (43%). Other goods, like food (8%), small presents (5%), clothing (3%), and money (1%) were also handed out. Nothing was provided at 12% of rallies observed. At rallies observed, candidates from all party categories handed out printed material and “other” items. USDP was more likely to give food, small presents, clothing and money than the NLD, other big parties and small parties/independents. PACE noted similar trends, even in “hot spot” townships observed.
In 98% of rallies observed, PACE LTOs did not see interference or disruption of the event. PACE did not see a difference in levels of interference among the four party categories or in “hot spot” locations.
During campaign rallies observed, party leaders joined as speakers at 40%, local officials at 17%, other influential people at 22%, celebrities at 5% and religious leaders at less than 1%. Sixteen percent (16%) of rallies observed had no other speakers besides the candidates. In “hotspot” townships where PACE observed, party leaders were more likely to be present than in average townships.
At rallies observed, candidates from other big parties were most likely to be joined by other party leaders, followed by candidates from the NLD and USDP. Candidates from all party types had similar rates of celebrities, religious leaders and local officials join the rallies. Candidates from the NLD and other big parties were less likely to campaign without another speaker, while USDP and small parties/independents were more likely.
PACE observed the language of candidates and official speakers at rallies to see if personal or inciting remarks were made. PACE did not observe the speech of candidates outside of rallies or speech by other actors. Of rallies observed, 93% of candidates made no personal or inciting comments about another candidate. However at 7% of rallies observed, candidates did make personal or inciting comments about another candidate.
At 98% of rallies observed, no speaker made any comment about a group or person based on their religion, race or gender. However, at 2% of rallies observed, inciting remarks were made about race, religion and/or gender. PACE observed candidates from each party type making these types of comments.
Voter List Update Process
An accurate and updated voter list is one of the most fundamental requirements for a credible election. According to the Hluttaw election laws (article 6-B), only citizens with a name on the voter list are allowed to vote. Chapter 3 of Hluttaw election laws stipulate detailed procedures on the process to update the voter list. The update process is neither state-initiated nor citizen-initiated. Rather, it is a mixed system; the UEC, specifically village track/ward sub-commission offices, are responsible to compile the list from General Administration Department and Ministry of Immigration and Population data. Once the UEC announces Election Day, the village track/ward sub-commission offices need to post the list for public review so voters can check their names and take necessary measures to correct mistakes, add missing names or remove outdated names.
In the past two elections, there was criticism about inaccuracies and fluctuations of the voter list. In 2015, with the technical assistance from an international organization, the UEC announced that they would use a computerized system to update the voter list. In June 2014, the UEC conducted a pilot project to computerize the list in three townships. Following the pilot, the UEC updated the voter list nationwide using the computer program to enter the voter list at the township level. In March 2015, the UEC launched initial rolling displays of preliminary voter lists around the country.
In the lead up to the elections, the media and political parties -- especially the NLD -- reported several cases where voter lists were incorrect, missing voters and inflated. There were many criticisms about the procedures to update the list and rumors about problems in the database. Such concerns led some lower level sub-commissions to deviate from the UEC’s nationwide voter list system. Most notably, Ayeyarwady region reverted to using Excel spreadsheets to compile the final voter list just weeks before the election. Despite controversies and concerns related to the voter list, reliable and accurate statistics on the rate of accuracy and completeness of the voter list remain unknown.
The election process called for a final list display before the elections. The final list display was the last opportunity for voters to make changes to the list before election day. The exact timing was not clear until late into the election process. On September 3, 2015, the UEC announced that the final nation-wide voter list display would be on September 14 to 27. The last-minute announcement of the voter list display created difficulties for voter education organizers, observers and political parties to prepare activities for the final display.
To assess the quality of the final voter list display process, PACE deployed 110 long-term observers to townships around the country. PACE’s methodology measured whether voters had access to the update process, the consistency of the procedures by sub-commissions, the level of voter education outreach and environment surrounding the process. PACE did not assess the quality or the accuracy of the voter list. From September 14-27, PACE observed 868 display centers across all states and regions in a roughly equal number of urban and rural display locations. All LTOs were assigned to observe different display centers for 8 days over the two week display period and remained in a center for an entire day.
According to PACE findings, the voter list process was generally open to the voters who wanted to update the list. Very few incidents of intimidation and interference in the process were reported and the sub-commission officials in most locations observed gave equal assistance to voters. Overall, the voter education activities, and the engagement of political parties and civil society were significantly low where PACE observed. PACE observers reported relatively low levels of voters submitting the forms to change the list. Importantly, the PACE observers found that some of the sub-commission members were not using proper forms to document requested changes as mentioned in the regulation, by-laws and manuals.
There was a lack of voter education materials and activities in and around a significant percentage of centers observed. At approximately 41% of observed centers, PACE did not see any voter education materials. At approximately 64% of observed centers, PACE did not see any voter education activities by any actors. In 34% of places where PACE observed, the local election sub-commissions were conducting voter education activities. As observers are only observing in and around the immediate vicinity of the center, it is possible that voter education activities could be happening in other locations.
Presence of Political Parties and CSOs
During both weeks of the display, PACE found that at most centers observed there were no political party representatives or other CSO volunteers present. At approximately 90% of observed centers, PACE did not see any political party representatives. At approximately 82% of observed centers, PACE did not see any other civil society volunteers.
Turnout and Submission of Changes
In centers PACE observed, observers saw quite modest turnout overall. Positively, PACE saw an equal number of men and women coming to check their names. In 28% of centers observed, PACE did not observe any voters submitting forms. PACE cannot say why voters did not submit forms. In 26% of centers observed, dozens of people submitted forms to make changes to the list.
According to initial information received from display officials in centers observed, most voters that submitted forms were applying for registration as temporary stay (form 3A) or to add their name (form 3). The next most common request was to change details to the list. Very few deletions/objections or change requests were noted.
In approximately 10% of observed centers, PACE noted a few (1-10) people leaving because they didn’t know how to fill the forms. In approximately 13% of centers, a few people left because they did not have an ID to prove their identity and in 10% of centers, a few people left because they could not prove their residency. For both cases, this observation was twice as common in urban places.
Display Center Management and Materials
To understand the administrative procedures of the centers, PACE observed the layout of centers, the presence of materials, opening hours, and the behavior of display officials to ensure that voters’ changes could be processed according to the UEC’s guidelines. In 99% of centers visited, PACE was allowed to observe. Ninety three (93%) of centers that opened and were observed by PACE had all necessary forms and displayed the voters list. During both weeks of the display, PACE received a small number of incident reports that officials in some centers were recording changes without using official forms.
While most centers observed were open during the officially designated hours, a sizable percentage (17%) was not open during the designated hours. A higher percentage of centers observed in rural areas were not open during designated hours, compared to those in urban areas. In 82% of centers observed, lists were displayed so that all voters, including elderly and disabled, could easily see the list. In 89% of places observed, officials were providing assistance to people who required it.
Intimidation and Interference
A safe environment is one of the most important factors contributing to voter turnout. PACE observed whether any intimidation occurred in and around the centers. In nearly all of the centers PACE observed, it did not see intimidation of voters or interference by unauthorized persons. In 98% of centers observed, PACE did not see any intimidation of voters. In 99% of centers observed, PACE did not see any interference by unauthorized persons in the process. In 92% of centers that PACE observed, display officials provided equal assistance to all voters.
Voter slip distribution
To assist voters to confirm their names on the voter list and to inform voters of their polling station location, the UEC announced that they would distribute voter slips between November 1 to 7, 2015. In the 2010 elections, the same system was used. Slips were used on election day to confirm voter identity and to assist election officials to find voter names on the list.
PACE deployed 126 LTOs to observe the process in their assigned townships. LTOs were instructed to travel to both urban and rural areas and interview local stakeholders, including voters, party members, sub-commission members and local authorities about the slip distribution process.
During the interviews, PACE’s LTOs asked local stakeholders how the voter slips were distributed. According to local stakeholders, in 69% of locations observed voters were asked to collect slips from local sub-commission offices. In 33% of locations, slips were allocated by door-to-door distribution. In 29% of locations, slips were handed out through the local leaders. There were significant differences between urban and rural locations. Urban areas were more likely to distribute voter slips at sub-commission offices than rural areas. Rural areas were more likely to distribute through local authorities than urban areas. Stakeholders in urban areas were significantly more likely to say that slips were not distributed, while those in rural areas were more likely to say they didn’t know how slips were distributed.
When it comes to the extent of voter slip distribution, stakeholders in 64 % of locations said the slips were distributed to everyone. PACE observers noted if they heard any complaints about the distribution of voter slips: in 73% of locations observed, LTOs heard no complaints, while in 18% of locations observed, LTOs heard stakeholders complain that the distribution didn’t reach all voters. In another 12% of locations, LTOs heard complaints that it was difficult to get slips, especially in urban areas. In 5% of locations, LTOs heard complaints that slips were given to the wrong person.
In recent Myanmar elections, advanced voting has been a widespread source of public suspicion in the election process. Specifically, the list of advanced voters, out-of-constituency advanced voting organized by institutions, and undue influence on advanced voters by local authorities or superiors were cited as common areas of concern.
In past elections, independent observation and oversight of advanced voting was not permitted. In 2015, the UEC announced that accredited observers would be allowed to observe in-constituency advanced voting, which is administered by local sub-commissions. However, accredited observers were not permitted to observe advance voting that occurred outside of a voter’s constituency arranged by institutions, like employers, educational facilities, Myanmar embassies abroad or military commands.
On October 27, the UEC released a directive that implied the in-constituency advanced vote process could begin on October 29, contradicting publicly released UEC training manuals that stated it would begin on November 6. In practice, in-constituency advance voting began on different dates in townships around the country. To observe the implementation of the process, 126 PACE LTOs monitored in-constituency advanced voting in townships around the country on November 6 and 7.
In all locations visited, PACE was allowed to observe advanced voting. Party and candidate agents were present to watch the process in 96% of locations. According to the law, in-constituency advanced voting was held in various types of locations. Of the wards/village tracts that PACE directly observed, 78% of advanced voting took place at the sub-commission office, 50% at voters’ house, 11 % at institutions, 5% at government facilities, 5% at prisons and 3% in other types of locations.
PACE observed what types of people cast advanced votes in each location. Elderly and disabled people cast an advanced vote in 75% of locations. Civil servants participated in advanced voting in 63% of locations observed. Election officials cast an advanced vote in 60% of locations. Sick or ill people participated in advanced voting in 50% of locations. Military voters were only observed casting in-constituency advanced votes in 9% of all locations, as opposed to detainees who voted in only 9% of all locations.
The majority of PACE observers (91%) said they saw no problems in the process. However, PACE LTOs noted isolated cases of forced advanced voting in rural areas, impersonation of voters, ballots stored insecurely, and intimidation. People were able to cast their vote secretly in 96% of locations observed.
Although PACE did not observe out-of-constituency voting, 41 observers stationed at township-level tabulation centers did observe the counting of those advanced vote ballots. PACE observers reported that out-of-constituency advanced votes were received by 4pm in nearly all tabulation centers observed. In most tabulation centers, advanced vote ballots were counted in a transparent manner so that observers could confirm marks on the ballots.
Election Observers and Media
As the 2015 elections were seen as an important turning point for Myanmar’s political transition, domestic and international groups showed strong interest in observing the elections. After concerted lobbying local civil society and international groups, the UEC legalized observation for the first time in Myanmar’s history. In June 2015, UEC issued a regulation which allowed the domestic and international groups to observe all aspects of the electoral process. By election day, more than 12,000 domestic and international observers were accredited by UEC or sub-commissions. PACE applied for accreditation in Nay Pyi Taw and collected badges at both Nay Pyi Taw offices and state/region offices. A total of 2,493 PACE volunteers were accredited for the whole electoral process including STOs, LTOs, spot checkers and reserve STOs.
It was a positive that the UEC opened the electoral process to independent domestic and international groups, allowing legal observation for the first time. However, several administration procedures and requirements made the process complex and timely for observer organizations, the UEC and sub-commissions. For instance, observer groups were required to submit a photo and signature of every individual observer several weeks before the election, creating a challenging and costly logistical task.
Among important players, the Myanmar media played a crucial role in the 2015 elections to reach out to voters and share information about the election. There were reports from more than a dozen of printed journals, online journals, radio and TV stations a few months before the elections. According to the local media monitoring groups, however, the neutrality and balance of coverage by state-owned or related and private media were a big question.
Election Day Voting and Counting
On November 8, 2015, more than 23 million voters turned out to cast their ballots. According to the UEC, the official turnout rate was 69% of registered voters.
By observing on election day, PACE aimed to assess the transparency, accountability and inclusiveness of the process which would contribute to the credibility of the result. PACE used internationally-practiced sample-based observation (SBO) methodology to systematically assess the quality of the process across the whole country. The SBO for the 2015 elections involved deploying citizen observers in pairs to a nationally representative sample of 440 polling stations. In addition to sampled polling stations, PACE also deployed additional observers to ensure coverage of politically competitive areas and under-observed areas. Overall PACE deployed more than 2,000 observers to more than 950 polling stations to monitor the opening, voting, closing, counting and tabulation on election day.
Generally, the election day was orderly and peaceful. Except for isolated cases of overcrowded urban polling stations, PACE observers were able to observe the process inside the polling station. Nearly all polling stations opened on time and, in most polling stations, officials followed the procedures. However, PACE observers reported that at some polling stations, advanced ballot boxes did not arrive before the opening.
Party agents were present at the majority of the polling stations. Inside and around polling stations, intimidation of voters was rare. However, there were reports about the presence of unauthorized persons at some polling stations. Although there were some reports of few people turning away from the polling stations because they were not on the list, this was not widely observed. In isolated cases, PACE observed a few people being allowed to cast votes even though their names were not on the list.
The closing and counting were open to observers and political parties, and conducted as instructed at a majority of the polling stations. Party agents (especially from the NLD and USDP) were present at a majority of the polling stations. PACE observers reported that at some locations advanced votes were not counted according to the instructions.
During the voting process, one PACE observer was stationed inside the polling station to observe the voting process and one was outside to observe the environment around the polling station. PACE STOs observed which party agents were present at the station, levels of intimidation, and illegal voting. At the majority of the station, party agents were present and NLD and USDP agents were present at similar rates.
Presence of Party Agent and unauthorized person
Party or candidate agents were present during the voting process in 92% of polling stations. Agents for the USDP were present in 83% of polling stations and agents from NLD in 84%, while agents from other Burman parties were present in 25% and ethnic parties 29%. Agents from independent candidates were present in 10% of polling stations. Unauthorized people were present in 13% of polling stations. Those people were often community leaders and local authorities, and, in isolated cases, members of the military.
Voter Identity, voter list and illegal voting
As the voter list and distribution of voter slips were controversial during the pre-election period, PACE observed the process of checking voter ID and illegal voting. Voters were asked to show proof of identity documents (such as a voter slip or NRC card) at 96% of polling stations. In 34% of polling stations, less than 10 people who came to vote were turned away because they were not on the voter list. In 4% of stations, more than 11 voters were turned away. In 92% of polling stations, those voters on the voter list were allowed to vote. However, in 7% of stations, less than 10 voters whose name was on the voter list were not allowed to vote. In 90% of stations, only people with names on the voter list were allowed to vote. However, in 10% of stations, some people with no name on the voter list were allowed to vote. PACE received incident reports of some people being allowed to vote on behalf of others, sometimes for family members and sometimes for others.
Secrecy of the vote and intimidation
PACE observed whether the voting process occurred in secret and with no intimidation. Voters were able to cast their vote in secret in 97% of polling stations. In 99% of polling stations, there was no intimidation or harassment of voters inside or in the immediate vicinity of the polling station. PACE observers were only able to observe intimidation inside and near the polling station, not outside of the station. In 99% of stations, voters were marked with ink as they left the premises. Special election police were present outside 97% of polling stations. At 38% of polling stations, there was still a queue at the polling station at 4pm. Of those polling stations, voters still in the queue were allowed to vote in 95% of cases. Observers were allowed to fully observe the voting process at 95% of polling stations. At 5% of polling stations, observers were allowed to observe, but with some restrictions. However, PACE heard isolated incidents of intimidation to voters and observers, forced voting, violation of secrecy of vote, illegal voting and refusal to be inked, which could be improved in the future.
Closing and Counting
PACE observed whether the closing and counting process was done in accordance with the regulations and procedures. PACE found that party agents were allowed to witness the closing and counting process in almost all polling stations and there were very few cases reporting intimidation during the counting process.
Presence of Party agent and observer to eyewitness counting
Nearly all polling stations, observers, agents and eyewitnesses were allowed to remain in the station after it closed. Advanced vote ballots were counted before other ballots in 94% of polling stations. In 98% of polling stations, the count was conducted so that observers could see how the ballot was marked. In 96% of polling stations, officials declared ballots invalid in a consistent manner. Party or candidate agents were present during the count in 94% of polling stations. Agents for the USDP were present in 88% of polling stations and agents from NLD in 87%, while agents from other Burman parties were present in 26% and ethnic parties 28%. Agents from independent candidates were present in 11% of polling stations.
After the count, ballots and forms were sealed inside tamper evident bags in 99% of polling stations. In 93% of polling stations, results forms (Form 16) were posted for public viewing after the count was completed. In 97% of polling stations, there was no intimidation, harassment or interference in the counting process. In 79% of polling stations, no party or candidate agents raised complaints to the Polling Station Officer during the counting process. Agents for the USDP raised complaints in 17% of stations, NLD agents raised complaints in 16% of stations, other Burman party agents in 5% of stations, ethnic party agents in 6% of stations and independent agents in 2% of stations.
On the evening of November 8 (election day) and on November 9, 41 PACE observers went to township-level tabulation centers around the country to observe the compilation of polling station results and out-of-constituency advance voting results.
In general, the tabulation process was open to observation. Nearly all PACE observers were allowed access to tabulation centers. However, most were not allowed to directly see polling station results forms as they were tabulated, as instructed in by-laws. Therefore, most observers could not verify if the correct results were recorded. Township level results (Form 19) were publicly posted in just half of centers observed on November 8 and slightly more than half on November 9.
Candidate and party agents were present in all 41 township centers observed on November 8 and in most centers on November 9. Agents from the NLD and USDP were most often present, followed by other Burman parties and ethnic parties. Agents for independent candidates were present at less than a one-fifth of centers observed. Although present, agents did not raise any complaints in most centers observed. Agents from the NLD, USDP and other Burman parties were most likely to raise complaints in locations observed.
In most centers observed, measures were taken to secure and store sensitive materials, like ballots and results forms. Most observers reported that there was no interference, intimidation or harassment in the tabulation centers where they observed.
Prior to the elections, violations of the campaign code of conduct were settled through informal mediation committees. However, the role of the committees including monitoring committees for code of conduct (MCOM) to mediate the disputes did not appear very active during the pre-election and election period. For the future elections, the UEC should promote a more pragmatic mechanism to mediate the disputes before filing and the fees for filing complaints should be reviewed.
While the objections for different processes such as the voter list, candidate nomination, and campaign can be reported or filed in a respective time frame, the objection to an election result can only be filed within 45 days after the results are announced. A voter, candidate or agent is allowed to file the objection against the elected representatives and is required to pay 500,000 kyats (roughly 500 USD) to file a case. For each complaint, the UEC forms an election tribunal comprised of three members of the UEC or one member and two independent legal experts. The tribunal conducts the investigation from the UEC office in Nay Pyi Taw or region/state sub-commission office and their work is open to the public to observe. There is a right to appeal to the UEC central commission and the decision of the UEC is final and conclusive.
Following the election, PACE observed aspects of the result complaints system (however, PACE did not closely monitor each complaint hearing). On November 23, 2015, PACE was invited to observe the election dispute resolution workshop in Nay Pyi Taw where international standards for electoral dispute resolution in the Myanmar context was discussed. In total, 45 cases were filed and, at the time this report was released, are currently being heard in Nay Pyi Taw. The court was open to the public and on January 12, PACE observers were allowed to observe the hearings in the UEC office. Overall, the court proceeding was open and transparent, however, PACE cannot comment on the validity of final judgments in each case.