National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel)

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Archive for October 2010

Namfrel on the upcoming Myanmar election

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The November 7 parliamentary election in Burma (Myanmar) has been getting opposing opinions from both local and international organizations and governments even before the date of the election was announced by Myanmar’s ruling military junta in August 2010.

Many are calling the election a sham because, as required by the country’s new constitution — drafted by delegates handpicked by the junta and approved through a referendum in 2008 — 25% of all seats will be reserved for the military; government departments shall be headed by individuals with military background; and any amendments to the constitution shall have to be approved by at least 75% of legislators. Furthermore, many political parties from non-Burman ethnic groups, and especially opposition leaders, most notably democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, are not allowed to contest the elections. The military junta dissolved Suu Kyi’s party, which has then split into two factions (for and against contesting the election). Foreign media as well as international observers will not be allowed to monitor the election. Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, won an overwhelming victory in Burma’s 1990 polls — the last time the country had an election. The junta had since ignored the results and locked up Suu Kyi and her party mates. Many of those who are calling for a boycott both from outside Burma, as well as inside (at the risk of being harassed by the military), believe that the 2010 election would effectively nullify the results of the 1990 election, which has been officially recognized by Western governments. The U.S. and other countries have since imposed sanctions against the Burmese government, and have not ceased calling for international pressure on Myanmar to free its political prisoners and to democratise.

Still, some believe that Myanmar should be allowed to hold its election on its own terms, and view the election as one step towards eventual democracy, however unlikely it would be in the short term. They also view the election as one concrete way in which civilians are actually given the rare chance to participate and possibly win seats, however advantageous the constitution is to the military and to the perpetuation of military rule. Some analysts have even said that with the election comes a new government, which would eventually abolish the contentious constitution of 2008 (as Myanmar has consistently experienced in its recent history) and possibly lead to a better form of government.

In the just concluded ASEAN summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, President Aquino called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, a strong statement from an Asian government, especially from the ASEAN. However, the Burmese prime minister reportedly did not make a commitment on the matter. In a press briefing, presidential communications group Secretary Ricky Carandang told reporters, “It is disappointing not just for the Philippines, I think, but for many of the ASEAN neighbors, many people in the international community. They would’ve viewed the release of Aung San Suu Kyi as a clear indication that the government of Myanmar was serious in taking steps on its roadmap to democracy. The lack of commitment on that was disappointing to the President.” (PDI) In an earlier interview, Philippine foreign affairs secretary Alberto Romulo called the coming election “a farce.” Even before the summit, the Philippine government has already stated that the election could be considered free and fair only if it would include not only the opposition leaders but also political parties from the country’s other ethnic groups. This is consistent with the United Nation’s recent calls for Burma to free Suu Kyi and the rest of the more than 2,000 political prisoners before the polls, and allow them to contest the election. “Without releasing all political prisoners, then there may certainly be some issue of legitimacy or credibility,” UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said in a recent interview in Phnom Penh. In the ASEAN summit, Carandang also said that President Aquino offered to share with Burma the Philippines’ experiences in transitioning to democracy, citing Filipinos’ peaceful moves to a democratic government. Carandang also told the press that the Burmese prime minister also said that Myanmar was willing to accept observers to its elections. The Philippines has not decided whether to send observers. According to another report, only the foreign embassies and missions already in Myanmar could be allowed to send up to five observers to observe polling stations, upon prior approval by the military government.

NAMFREL as an election monitoring organization believes that Myanmar’s election laws are not conducive to internationally accepted conditions for proper election monitoring and observation. In August, NAMFREL and 10 other election monitoring organizations in the region under the banner of the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), released a statement questioning the unfair practices in the electoral process of Burma, and concluding that the coming election “may not be acceptable to the international community since every single development in Burma provides a strong indication of the fact that the military junta is doing all but to hold a democratic election.” In line with the Philippine government’s stand, NAMFREL encourages the Myanmar government to adhere to the internationally-accepted principles of free and fair election to lend credibility to their proposed road map to democracy and to ensure participation of all ethnic and opposition groups. NAMFREL would also be willing to support efforts by the Philippine government to assist Myanmar in its transition to democracy. NAMFREL is cognizant that any change should come from within the country and with the participation of the military as also reportedly acknowledged by Aung San Suu Kyi herself. As a nation that has struggled through the pains of democratization after years of military control, the Filipinos, we believe, would be in a position to lend a hand in a show of solidarity with our Asian neighbors.

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Written by namfrel

October 29, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Posted in Burma

Namfrel concludes participation in the 2010 Afghanistan Wolesi Jirga election

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NAMFREL participated as election observers in the September 18 Wolesi Jirga (parliamentary) elections in Afghanistan. Senior Operations Associate Paolo B. Maligaya, and Bantay ng Bayan coordinator Kristine Marie D. Tapiz, were deployed as long-term observers in Balkh province and Kapisa province, respectively, as members of the just-concluded observation mission of the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL). Meanwhile, NAMFREL National Council member and former Executive Director Telibert C. Laoc, is the mission coordinator of the National Democratic Institute (NDI)’s ongoing election observation mission in Afghanistan.

The 2010 Wolesi Jirga election was the fourth time ANFREL has observed in Afghanistan, first during the 2004 parliamentary elections, then the 2005 presidential elections, and after that last year’s presidential election. For this year’s election, ANFREL deployed 30 volunteers from 11 Asian countries to Central, North, and Northeast Afghan provinces to observe the pre-election, election day, and post-election periods.

Afghanistan’s security situation remained the biggest concern of all international personnel, particularly around the time of the election, severely restricting movement, and even affected schedules, including ANFREL’s. The situation was exacerbated by Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s decree giving ultimatum on the presence of private security personnel in Afghanistan. International organizations depend largely on these security firms, and the decree, and the lack of a definite timetable for the pull-out, was a big concern to international agencies, including election observers.

Afghanistan intimidates its visitors, not just the first-timers, simply because the situation always seems to be changing. When last year, some of us who observed the presidential election were still able to walk freely around Kabul to shop or sightsee without security escorts, this year we had to stay indoors most of the time, and definitely after sundown. UN personnel, targets of past attacks by the Taliban, were not even permitted to leave their guesthouses on the days around election day.

In many provinces, the situation was not as tense as it was in Kabul or in other areas like Kandahar and Nangarhar. In the northern province of Balkh and in Kapisa where NAMFREL observers were deployed, the security was very good, at least in the city areas where most of the popuation live. As in most provinces in the country, the situation was different though in the far-flung districts, where people complained of violence and intimidation, not necessarily from the Taliban but from candidates contesting the elections, especially those believed to be warlords or have connections with militias. Female candidates were especially affected by intimidation from their male counterparts, making many of them unable to campaign or send election day agents to certain areas.

Campaign for this election was noticeably more subdued (at least in the urban areas) compared with last year’s presidential election. On election day, we also noted that the turnout was noticeably lower than last year’s.

For the 2010 Wolesi Jirga elections, the biggest concerns for election observers apart from the security situation include the existence of fake voter cards, multiple voting, ink that was washable, ballot stuffing, vote buying, lack of training and voters education, among other things. In order to not pre-empt ANFREL, which would be releasing its detailed observations in the coming days, we will not go into further details regarding the pre-election, election day, and post-election observations of NAMFREL’s observers and their teammates.

Aside from election observation per se, ANFREL was also involved this time in the training of local election observers of the Free & Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) — also an ANFREL member-organization — up to the provincial and even district levels. FEFA deployed thousands of long-term and election day observers all over the country. The training program gave a rare opportunity for the Asian delegates to meet our Afghan counterparts. It was an eye-opening experience. Despite the cultural differences and the situations unique to Afghanistan, the Afghan observers basically have the same concerns like we do: free and fair elections, effective observation, a stable democracy.

As a founding member-organization, NAMFREL has been participating in ANFREL’s election observation missions, starting with the Cambodian parliamentary elections in 1997. ANFREL’s current chairperson is Mr. Damaso G. Magbual, NAMFREL’s Membership Committee chair.

Since its inception in 1983, NAMFREL volunteers have worked as trainers, observer team members, election administrators and resource persons in 31 countries so far. NAMFREL volunteers have been directly involved in the creation of similar election monitoring organizations in some of these countries.

(Note: We will continue giving updates on the results of the Wolesi Jirga elections, as well as terminal reports from other observer groups like ANFREL, FEFA, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Democracy International, as well as Afghanistan’s election agencies — the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). Please follow NAMFREL on Twitter and Facebook.)

Written by namfrel

October 8, 2010 at 4:40 pm