More than 600 polling stations moved off military bases for November, says UEC

To provide election observers with unrestricted access, 632 polling booths will be set up for Tatmadaw soldiers and their families outside of military bases, the Union Election Commission (UEC) announced on July 31. 

Critics have charged that voting on bases – where election observers and the general public are prohibited from entering – hinders election transparency and allows military higher-ups to pressure the lower ranks into voting for military friendly candidates.

Military MPs strongly opposed UEC rules amendments to move all polling off of military bases in parliament last year, arguing that the voter rolls on bases constitute military secrets. 

The amendments were approved this May.

Still, the military maintains that some of its polling stations cannot be moved off base. 

Tatmadaw spokesperson brigadier-general Zaw Min Tun told reporters at a July 25 press conference in Nay Pyi Taw that it would not be possible to set up outside polling for the military’s more remote bases, though he did not explain why or list any bases by name. He said the military will otherwise follow all UEC rules.  

The UEC denied rumors which surfaced after that press conference that votes cast on bases would be invalidated, insisting that the votes will still count.

Kachin State People’s Party vice-chairman Gumgrawng Awng Hkam said his party will protest and file complaints if any polling is done within military bases in Kachin. 

He is running for a lower house seat in the state’s Sumprabum township. 

“It will be difficult, because the military always does what it wants despite people’s objections, but we still have to object,” he told Myanmar Now. 

He said he’s worried that, even with soldiers voting outside their bases, their votes likely still won’t be cast freely.

“It won’t make any difference just by setting up the polling station outside the military bases. They will still be afraid,” he said. “The result will not be different.” 

In 2015, when soldiers voted at polling stations on military bases, they voted overwhelmingly for the military proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). 

Meiktila, a Mandalay region township that is home to several military bases, voted for the USDP over Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in both houses of the union and regional parliament that year.  

The UEC’s Meiktila branch chairman, Dr Than Tun, said 19 polling places will be set up throughout the district in November – three near remote military outposts and 16 in populated areas they’ll share with civilians.

“No polling stations will be inside military bases. If a military base is near a village, all voters will have to cast their votes in the village,” he said. “If a base is too far from a village, the polling station will be set up at a Dhamma hall [a community space used for religious events] or a building near the military base,” he said. 

In Sittwe – the provincial capital in the north of Rakhine state, where intense armed conflict between the military and the insurgent Arakan Army (AA) is ongoing – 20 military polling stations will be set up outside bases, according to Sittwe UEC branch deputy director Khine Myo Tun.  

“Following union-level negotiations, agreements have been made for military personnel to cast their votes at military polling stations outside of their bases or at civilian polling stations,” he told Myanmar Now.

Kyaw Zaya, who is running as a People’s Pioneer Party (PPP) candidate for a seat representing Yangon’s Dagon township, said military vote splitting between his party and the NLD will ultimately favor the USDP in the township, where two military compounds are located. 

Kyaw Zaya is running as an incumbent. He won the seat as an NLD candidate in 2015 but moved to the newly-formed PPP earlier this year. 

That year, while winning the overall constituency, he won just 50 of the 800 votes cast at a polling site for military engineers and just 40 of the 1,000 votes cast at a polling site for military medical personnel to the USDP, he told Myanmar Now. 

“If the USDP gets a majority of the military votes, the USDP will win the constituency,” he said. 

Of the 632 polling stations that military personnel will vote in, 339 of them will be shared with civilians, according to UEC member Myint Naing. 

In 2015, 844 polling places were on military bases, 108 of them open to personnel and their families and 139 also open to civilians from nearby villages, according to the UEC.

More than 34m votes were cast at military and civilian stations across the country in 2015. 

This year, more than 37 million people are eligible to vote – but this does not include the number of eligible military personnel, which has not yet been released. 

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