The toll of government vote manipulation in Mon and Karen States

November 8, 2010

In Mon and Karen States, valid voting communities saw efforts in the week prior to the election to force government administration and civil servants to cast early ballots. These efforts have involved both intimidating voters and taking the ballots from staff to be filled out by senior department heads. As a result, many voters have been intimidated into voting for the USDP, or believe their ballots have been filled out in support of the USDP.

Beginning on October 26th, residents in Mon State and Karen state have described to HURFOM field reporters, efforts by senior leaders at administrative and civil servants offices to pressure staff into casting advanced votes. With this pressure has come an open effort to push the staff into casting votes in favor of the USDP. Such an effort violates Burma’s own election law, in article 66, chapter 14, of the Pyithu Hluttaw Electoral Law. Though the accounts bellow only detail the experiences of civil servants in Mon and Karen State, this effort is believed to have occurred throughout Burma.

Government staff have described to HURFOM three methods of advanced vote collection that have been undertaken. In one instances office staff have been called into see the department head, and told to fill out the ballot there so that it could be returned early.  In such cases the staff member voting is forced to respond to often times open pressure to vote for the pro-government USDP, or risk retribution for casting their votes for another party. In the second instance of manipulation, government staff were visited at their homes by advanced voting staff who were going door to door asking for their advanced votes. In the third instance, government staff were told ballots had arrived for their advance votes at the office.  However rather then received the ballot, the received the bottom portion for registration, requiring the voters signature and ID number, while the vote casting portion of the ballot was taken to the department head. This third method has been the most frequently described in the data collected by HURFOM.

On October 27th in eastern Ye Township, Mon State, civil servants who work as Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation staff, Land Surveying Department staff, and educational staff (school teachers and support staff), have reported being denied the opportunity to complete advanced vote ballots. Instead department directors or supervisors have used staff ballots to cast votes, leaving staff to fill out the signature portion.

U Mya Swe [ not real name ], 45, is currently serving as a group manager of the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation staff in Ye township but is originally from Paung Town. He described his experience trying to fill out his advanced vote:

Since last Oct.26, the ballot and advance-voting registration document for us (I and my 12 colleagues) have arrived here. However, after we had just registered on the ballot[1], our director general of the district voted for us instead. We thought that we were going to be given the ballots that we can vote for any candidate we want to, but in fact the ballots were not given to us and the director general of district took the ballots and will [tick them] for us by himself. Well… here… we are also educated people, so why did they do like that? If it is the order given by Sen-generals – and it is a absolute order –, they can tell us this straight. Actually, this kind of stuff has been done since we had to support the 2008  [constitutional] referendum in 2008.

Ko Mann Tin [not real name], 38, from Karen State, is serving in the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation staff, with his colleague called U Mya Swe in Ye Township:

Like what U Mya Swe has just said, since we are working at the same place, my advance-vote was ticked on the same day. Even though this is an advance-vote and [we are] said to vote individually with our attitudes, in reality it is not and the ballots are taken [from us], with the order of the directors of our district [offices], …and they vote for us instead. Our votes are probably going to be ticked for the USDP. It [the USDP] is the [pro-government] party which is the most powerful and the most general-candidate presented in the election. I become disappointed with this because I cannot vote for our Karen political party even though I really want to. I can do nothing. Even though I know that I am one of the civic servants who have been working as a government pet – raising our hands and nodding our heads, saying YES – for a long time. This time, I, by myself, really want to vote for the candidate who is representing our Karen people. Again, this time, the same as what Ko Mya Swe’s just mentioned – we had to support the 2008 referendum even though we were not aware of it. I, therefore, am really disappointed with this as our ballots are ticked by our supervisors but not by ourselves.

U Nyi Aung [not real name], a middle school teacher in a Mon village in northern Ye township, who also gave advance-vote:

We civil servants think that, as planed by Nay Pyi Taw, our ballots are ticked by our supervisors, for the USDP. We though that can be – though we do not know precisely yet. Besides this USDP, the NUP is also the party supported by the government, and in order to get more votes, the government will probably help it out. But as it [election results] is not seen as real yet, I cannot say. To tell our reality, because of this advance-ballots we lost our votes. Our education administrator did not give us our ballots, but he only gave us the document to register it in order to prove that we have already voted. That happened on October 27. Then we were told by the administrator that we do not need to vote this November 7th because we have already voted [in the] the advanced vote.

According to one observe, it is believed that besides the opportunity to cast government staff votes for the USDP, the advanced vote kept numbers of possible voters low. Rather then having government staff mingling with civilians at the poles, the two voting populations were kept separate. According to a member of a township Election Commission, who wished to remain anonymous, the reason given to government staff for the advanced vote was both a logistical problem and an effort to separate civil servants from the general voting population:

Because of this advanced vote system, civil servants are facing difficulty in taking trips from the place where they are currently serving to the polling booths, and they have to sort out this problem first. [Also] on this election day, November 7th, [staff] are not [supposed] to be mixed up with citizens, this [is why] the pre-vote voting is planed for the civil servants.

A civil servant who is serving in Aen Kae village, and ask to remain as anonymous, described his frustration at the overt effort to cast early ballots in favor of the USDP:

Not going to the polling station to vote by ourselves is considered against the election laws. It is called vote cheating. It [the SPDC] has been doing like this – cheating – since drawing the 2008 constitution. So now, it [vote cheating] has happened two times. They authorities know that as usual, the civil servants [will] say nothing against it. It is 90% sure that it [vote cheating] is done for the USDP. Who would it be besides the USDP? The USDP is the one preparing to be supreme. I also have some friends who are working for the USDP as members of it. They often said that ‘without competing, we USDP can still win with a landslide victory’. But if they say like that, why are they cheating like this?

One Kaw-kareik town resident, 55, said from what he has witnessed, since the advance-vote system has been legalized by the government, he estimates 80% of the early votes are cast in favor of the USDP, in his town. He also noted that registered members of civil society groups such as the Health department, the fire brigade, the Maternal and Child Welfare Association (MCWA), and other government social work and civil society groups, all will face the same pressure to cast votes for the USDP.

The polling system seems to be a bit [of a] difficulty since it takes time for those who live far from the polling booth, so that is why [they say] the advance-voting system is planed. And since they the government passed the laws that they will vote on behalf of those who live far away and cannot come to polling station, I have thought that the government is cheating. Now that is obviously the case – cheating. Respective regional authorities are voting on behalf of civil servants. These votes are for the USDP. No political party will be given the votes besides the USDP. Now as no political party can compete with the USDP nationwide, the USDP has already got 52 seats. But as the USDP is worried that it is not going to be able to compete with the Mon political party and Karen political party in Mon and Karen regions…It is definitely cheating and we have to do [something so that] it [vote-cheating]must be known nationwide and worldwide. So that when it [USDP] wins the election and takes power, we can prove that they won the election by cheating.

Additionally, from family lists that the regime has collected since late 2009, SPDC forces and village headmen have collected the names and IDs of civilians who are absent or working aboard in near by Thailand and other countries. As a result, officials and staff form the Village Peace and Development Councils (VPDCs) and local militias filled out these advanced votes in the names of absent residents with forged signatures and ID numbers collected from the lists. The addition of forged ballots for Burmese citizens abroad would add an estimated 1.5 to 2 million more advanced votes cast in favor of the USDP.

A Kawkareik town resident, 55, expressed his concern over the government’s process of manipulating the votes of migrant workers and citizens abroad:

In our region, they [USDP] have been cheating…[because they] got the list of people who are in Thailand and other neighboring countries. For the votes of those who are aboard, the authorities by themselves have voted on behalf of [family members] in Kaw-ka-reik town since last Oct. In these cases, the other political party will be affected and loose a lot of votes. I will say that now the political parties which are working for our county [will] really lose votes and a chance to run the country.

While a overall count of government staff is difficult to judge, HURFOM field reporters have confirmed that there are over 2000 civil servants who are currently carrying out their duties in each of the townships of Ye, Ye Pyu, some parts of Mudon, and eastern Kyaik-ma-yaw. Similarly a HURFOM researcher estimated that in TPP Town alone there are 120 soldiers for the local battalion, 50 police officers, 50 teachers and educational staff, and small numbers of staff from at least 20 governmental offices. One local school teacher estimates that there are at least 300 civil servants in Three Pagoda Pass (TPP) Town.

With the election only a day old, and fighting erupting on the border, the widespread  implementation of a policy of forced voting amongst government administration, and other election manipulation, appears to be the largest lingering question that will determine the election impacts.

While the SPDC banned international observers for nearly all poling stations, the regime did allow party observers. However, with the extremely low voter turn out, and reports that some of those who did attend voided their ballots, the question of what impact these pre-election ballots will have remains high. As noted in the accounts above, civil servants who were forced into pre-voting situations were certain that their ballot had been cast in favor of the USDP.  It is likely that with current regime employing at least 10% of the national population (civil servants and military personnel) the impact these manipulated ballots will have on the election will high.

[1] The ballot described is actually different from ballots used on November 7th. The November 7th ballots are larger one piece sheets in an A4 size.  The advanced vote ballots are smaller, and have two halves. On one, villagers must put their names and their ID number, while on the other they are given the party options to vote, a box to tick, and also a place for their ID number.


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