The Politics of Election Observing

Burma’s Election Commission is allowing in election “observers” from USA, EU, Canada, Japan, China, South Korea, and the ASEAN. In total there will be roughly 159 people there.

Does it really match international standards though?

Not really.

The U.S. is filling it’s 2 allotted spots with people from the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute – two organizations who do extensive work on monitoring elections around the world.

From State Department daily press briefing yesterday:

Victoria Nuland (Spokesperson): “In that context, they’ll be there March 28th through April 3rd to study the conduct and significance of the polling. But as they said in their own statement that they released yesterday, they will not be in a position to monitor in the traditional sense under the terms of the UN Declaration of Principles on International Election Observance, because they’re only getting there a couple of days before the election.

So the process that the Burmese have offered, although a positive advance over past elections, is not going to conform to international standards for conducting an election observation mission. But they are going to bear witness to how the voting goes forward, and we also are expecting some American journalists and international journalists there.”

and then questions from journalists:

QUESTION: Well, I guess what I’m getting at is: Do you think that this is acceptable?

MS. NULAND: Well, as I – as we are saying, it doesn’t meet the standard for monitoring, but it’s an advance over where they’ve been. And we are supporting the notion that they will witness the day of.

QUESTION: Right. But you don’t consider this to be them taking on board what the Secretary told them when she was there?

MS. NULAND: No. We consider that they’ve made progress. We just don’t consider that they have yet reached the international standard for observation.

There were other concerns about the status of international election observation last week when the Executive Director of ANFREL (Asian Network for Free Elections) Ms. Somsri Hananuntasuk and two colleagues were forced to leave the country because they were there giving trainings to election observers and journalists.

Australia had received confirmation from Burma’s ambassador that they could send 2 observers, but then today they were rejected by Burma.

We still aren’t sure the freedom international observers will have – if they will be controlled on where they can go.

Local civil society in Burma are organizing citizen election monitoring programs. Former political prisoners and leading activists 88 Generation Students group are joining with youth group Generation Wave and New Burma Network to observe the elections as best as they can. They will have monitors in all of the 48 (I guess now 45) constituencies where elections will happen, though won’t be at every polling station. Some people have wondered if the reason polls were cancelled in Kachin state was because Burmese officials didn’t want foreigners going there. NDF candidate Bawk Jar has said there are not security problems in the polling areas and so it is unfair that the voting for these Kachin areas has been cancelled.

Burmese news organization Burma News International released a new report today about pre-election observations. It is a good overview of candidates, campaigning, restrictions, and more.

Don’t forget to follow our election coverage here.


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