RANGOON — Members of several opposition parties have complained that new rules proposed by the Election Commission (EC) this week will limit their opportunities to campaign during the 2015 elections in Burma.
The commission proposed changes to the election law, by-laws and regulations this week and it distributed the new election guidelines among political parties.
The new rules would allow parties to campaign for a period of 29 days, while canvassing will not be allowed the day before the election. Under the rules, a party member can only hold a campaign rally and give a speech in a public area or in the media after gaining permission from the EC in the township where the candidate is registered.
The EC also requires anyone wanting to participate in a political campaign to first register and gain approval from the commission.
During a consultation meeting, organized by the Myanmar Multiparty Democracy Program in Rangoon on Thursday, political party members met with the Election Commission Chairman Tin Aye to discuss the proposed rules.
Tin Aye told reporters that the new rules would be discussed with the political parties. “Today, we will present concerns regarding election campaigning. Feedback will come. Based on this, we will draft the rules and regulations that the political parties agree upon. I am the judge [for the rules],” he said. “My duty is to arrange free and fair elections.”
He added that the upcoming parliamentary by-elections would be held in the last week of November or the first week of December this year.
Burma’s national elections, which are supposed to be the first free and fair elections after decades of military rule, are expected to be held in late 2015. Only 75 percent of Parliament seats will be up for election that year, as the army retains direct control over a quarter of all seats.
On the sidelines of the meeting, party members told The Irrawaddy that they opposed the proposed election rules, with some describing them as “undemocratic.”
“Thirty days for holding an election campaign minus one day before Election Day, leaves only 29 days to campaign. The time period is too short,” said Nan Htwe Hmone of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy.
“Another thing is that permission from the EC is required to campaign. I think this is undemocratic. It would be more suitable if we would be required to inform the EC rather than seek its permission. This would be more free and fair.”
“The guidelines set too many limitations. We want them changed,” said Dixon Tun Lin, central executive committee member of the Karen People’s Party. “We plan to urge [the commission] to increase the election campaign period to 60 days, up from the 30 days that are now allowed… [And] we want to inform rather than [be required to] seek permission from the EC,” he said.
Dixon Tun Lin added that his party would work with the Federal Democracy Alliance, which comprises 11 ethnic parties, to push for changes to the new rules.
Maung Maung Aye, deputy chairman of Dawei nationalities party, said the smaller parties wanted to have a longer campaign period so that they could better compete with the larger parties, which can more easily carry out a campaign in a short period of time.
“Some small parties think that one month campaign time is not enough. Otherwise, the big party can take over campaigning in their constituency,” he said.
Nai San Naing from the Mon National Party raised questions over the independence of the EC and suggested the rules were set up in favor of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). “The Election Commission is like a judge. When the judge is biased, free and fair elections will not happen,” he said.
Tin Aye was a top ranking general in the former military regime and was appointed as EC chairman by President Thein Sein in 2011. In the flawed 2010 elections he won a seat in the Lower House as a member of the USDP, a political party that contains mostly former junta members.
Last month, Tin Aye proposed election rules that would only allow politicians to campaign in their own constituencies, a move that would significantly affect opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
He also raised eyebrows by comparing the NLD’s campaign rallies during the 2012 by-elections, the first democratic exercise in decades, to the chaos of the 1988 democratic uprising. Tin Aye said he wants to hold elections in “disciplined democracy style,” a term used by the army to describe its intention to tightly control the pace of Burma’s democratic transition.
On Thursday, Tin Aye told the media that basic voter registration would be computerized during the 2015 elections, adding that pilot projects would soon start in Ahlone Township in Rangoon Division, Tee Tain Township in Chin State and Waingmaw Township in Kachin State.
Saw Daniel, chairman of the Kayah Unity Democracy Party, told The Irrawaddy that voter registration was an important issue as there have been concerns in the past over voter lists in Karenni State. He said that during previous elections under the former military regime, the state’s voter list had contained 500,000 voters, even though the population totaled 400,000 people.