With 2017 By-Elections, Myanmar’s Election Commission Looks to Build on Successes
On April 1, 2017, Myanmar will hold by-elections for 19 vacant seats in national and regional legislative assemblies where 95 candidates will seek votes from among 2.1 million eligible voters. The 2017 by-elections are the first electoral event following Myanmar’s historic 2015 national elections, and thus will be an important step for the Union Election Commission (UEC) to demonstrate improvements to the electoral process.
To support these improvements, the UEC – with support from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) – conducted a review of recommendations from electoral stakeholders to consolidate improvements and integrate lessons learned to revise procedures and operations for the by-elections. As part of this process, the UEC has worked to develop inclusive voter education materials; revise operational manuals on electoral procedures such as polling and counting; create and publish an electoral calendar; and enter corrections to, and improve the sorting of, the voter list.
By-elections will take place across eight states and regions, with the majority occurring in ethnic states where voters mostly speak different ethnic languages and not Burmese. This diverse distribution of contested seats was an issue the UEC confronted when developing a voter education strategy. Ensuring that voter education reaches as many voters as possible, in a clear and understandable format, is integral to the success and inclusivity of elections. IFES provided support to the UEC and several Myanmar civil society organizations who collaborated with ethnic language institutes to ensure voter education materials were translated into five ethnic languages and worked together to distribute more than 445,000 pamphlets and 69,500 posters. Voter education materials and other important information related to by-elections have also reached significant audiences on social media, especially through the “Let’s Go Vote” Facebook page.
A motivational voter education poster used for the 2017 by-elections.
The UEC also focused on sorting the voter list based on households to allow for all family members to be grouped together, a change from the past when it was sorted by name and address. This sorting method was an important recommendation following the 2015 elections, making it easier for one voter to quickly check the list for an entire household and submit corrections. The UEC has already received positive feedback on this change from voters following the first week of the display. IFES support also enabled the UEC to update the voter list through a door-to-door verification process and national voter list display held February 1-14. This included assisting the monitoring of corrections and producing statistical analysis of corrections after each phase of the update process.
During a review of polling procedures and operations, the UEC incorporated recommendations made by electoral stakeholders after the 2015 elections into the UEC Polling Manual for the 2017 By-Elections, which further aligns polling and counting procedures with regional and international best practices. Updates to the polling manual included new mechanisms to streamline operations on Election Day, such as adding an additional poll worker to each polling station; an increase in the number of tamper-evident seals to ensure ballot boxes are sealed properly; revised criteria for valid/invalid votes to better capture the intent of voters; further emphasis on the posting of results at polling stations; and more detailed instructions and a new checklist on accessibility measures to further promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities. The updated polling manual along with polling information posters – which IFES also supported the UEC to update – has been a useful tool in the UEC’s poll-worker cascade training, polling simulation exercises and activities facilitated by other international implementers.
Another important contribution to the electoral process was releasing an electoral calendar that provides key dates such as candidate nominations, advance voting and voter list displays.
This work is an important milestone in institutionalizing the gains made during the 2015 elections and continuing to strengthen Myanmar’s electoral process during this critical period of its democratic transition.