In an answer to a question in the British Parliament, the British government has said it will “watch and assess” support to the Union Election Commission (UEC) on the basis of principles of inclusion and impartiality.
“Impartiality of the election commission is an essential part of a fair democratic process” said Nigel Adams, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Minister with responsibility for Burma policy.
The answer by the Minister was in response to a question put down by Rushanara Ali MP, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Democracy in Burma, on whether or not the British government would review support to the UEC in light of its actions disenfranchising ethnic voters.
Burma Campaign UK has been calling on the British government not to provide any form of support to the government or UEC for the holding of elections, as long as they act in a racist and biased manner. The government and UEC banned most Rohingya from voting, rejected Rohingya and other ethnic candidates, engaged in mass disenfranchisement of other ethnic voters in an apparently biased way, censored opposition parties, misused state media for pro-government propaganda and acted in numerous other unfair ways.
Burma Campaign UK wants support directed instead to civil society and election monitoring.
“British aid money should not be spent supporting an apartheid election and a racist and politically biased election commission,” said Anna Roberts, Executive Director of Burma Campaign UK. “We are pleased to see the British government highlight the need for inclusive elections and impartiality. There is no way British support to the UEC can continue if principles of inclusiveness and impartiality are applied.”
Burma Campaign UK has published a briefing paper ‘Burma’s 2020 Election. A Step Forward or a Step Back?’ describing the November 2020 election as an apartheid election less free and fair than the last. It argues that international donors need to review their support for the Union Election Commission and government of Burma in light of the fact that instead of entrenching and expanding democratic space, they are acting undemocratically and do not respect human rights.
It is particularly alarming that the NLD engaged in unfair election practices even though it was certain to win the election without them. This is indicative of the NLD’s intolerance to criticism and opposition.
The unfair election practices the NLD engaged in are additionally damaging as it opens the process up to accusations by military and pro-military opposition political parties such as the Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP) that they lost seats because of unfair practices. In fact, the military USDP lost seats because most people in Burma hate the military. The USDP is also acting hypocritically by complaining about the NLD doing the same things it did when it was in power.
Smaller and ethnic political parties suffered most from unfair practices by the government and UEC, not the USDP. The military are also responsible for the 2008 Constitution and electoral framework which is undemocratic and inherently unfair to ethnic political parties in particular.
Question and answer in UK Parliament
10 November 2020 Rushanara Ali: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, what plans he has to review the provision of support to the Union Election Commission in Myanmar in response to its decisions to prevent voting in parts of the country.
Nigel Adams: The UK provides technical assistance to the Union Election Commission through IFES and other partners. This is to help the UEC to implement reform to align with international and regional best practices, and to provide the training (e.g. on countering hate speech, women’s political participation etc.) that will allow the UEC to work towards more fair, credible, open and inclusive elections.
We are not providing any direct financial support to the UEC. Support is aimed at building the principles of inclusion and impartiality. We will continue to watch and assess UEC conduct in relation to these values. Impartiality of the election commission is an essential part of a fair democratic process. Our Ambassador and Development Director regularly raise issues of concern with the UEC.