The Union Election Commission (UEC) will not allow an established election watch group to monitor Burma’s upcoming general election in November, it announced in a statement last week.
The organization in question, the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections (PACE) describes itself as an independent civil society initiative focused on promoting electoral transparency and accountability. They carried out election monitoring activities during Burma’s 2015 general election and the by-elections of 2017.
According to the UEC’s August 13 statement, PACE’s failure to register with the government—as well as its status as a recipient of international financial assistance—is why the organization will not be allowed to monitor the 2020 general election.
A total of 443 civil society organizations have condemned the UEC for not allowing PACE to monitor the coming general election and described the move as a threat to other civil society groups.
Burma’s 2015 by-law regarding organizational registration with the government describes the practice as voluntary, not required. However, in practice, unregistered organizations face increased scrutiny and can be subjected to harassment by the authorities.
“Organizations which will monitor the government do not register with the government,” Wint Htal Kaung Myat, who is working with the Shan State Peace Task Force and the Myanmar Institute of Peace and Security Studies, told SHAN. “If PACE cannot monitor the election, it will be difficult to find irregularities in the election. As a consequence, people won’t know about the irregularities in the election.”
Shan State, with ongoing armed conflict, a lack of transportation and infrastructure, and past disputes concerning the electoral process, especially requires independent monitoring, Wint Htal Kaung Myat said.
“Sometimes election monitoring groups can report irregularities in the election that even the election commission doesn’t know about,” he added.
Political parties have been unable launch election campaigns ahead of the November 8 vote, because of restrictions surrounding gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The situation might get worse. The election might not be free or fair,” a local civil society worker in northern Shan State told SHAN.
PACE’s preparation toward monitoring the 2020 general election includes placing nearly 2,900 staff across the country. The organization released a statement on August 14 criticizing the UEC’s restrictions as negatively affecting the election’s credibility and stability in the country during that period.