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The Union Election Commission (UEC) has summoned a spokesperson for the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) to provide evidence after the latter questioned the commission’s ability to rule on electoral disputes impartially.
UEC chairman Hla Thein and the USDP representative will meet on Friday in the capital Naypyidaw, where both are headquartered, marking the first time during the tenure of the current commission that the electoral body has called upon a party to answer for allegations of malpractice.
Nandar Hla Myint, the USDP spokesperson, told DVB on Thursday that he will prepare documents that support his party’s claims, and had also had discussions with legal experts on how to resolve its disagreements with the UEC.
The USDP was most recently angered by a decision from the commission to unseat one of its members from a Shan State legislature seat, originally awarded to the military-backed party’s Shar Mwe La Shen in a by-election on 1 April.
This year’s by-election saw a combined 19 seats contested across the Union Parliament, and state and regional legislatures. Factoring in the decision of a UEC tribunal on 22 November to flip the Kentung Township seat, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won 10 of those races, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy tallied six, and the USDP, the Arakan National Party (ANP) and the All Nationalities Democracy Party (ANDP) took one seat each.
But at a press conference on 22 November, members of the USDP leadership said the decision to award the disputed Shan State seat to the NLD — based on what the commission said was the initial winner violating election law in both campaign budgeting and distribution of unpermitted electioneering pamphlets — had eroded trust in the UEC’s ability to serve as a neutral arbiter of the nation’s polls.
In a race in which the USDP candidate won 7,026 votes, against the NLD runner-up’s 4,518 votes, Nandar Hla Myint said the allegedly unauthorised campaign pamphlets in support of Shar Mwe La Shen were not explicitly printed as having been sponsored by the USDP. He also noted that out of a combined 25 appeals filed by the USDP related to the 2015 general election and 2017 by-election, the USDP was not successful in any of the cases.
“I will explain to [the UEC] whether its decision on our MP is really right or not. Our MP won, based on the initial decision of the UEC. The NLD’s candidate submitted an appeal to the UEC and then he was awarded [the seat] in a second decision. That wasn’t fair,” said Nandar Hla Myint, referring to the successful appeal of the electoral outcome by NLD candidate Wunna Soe, who now holds the seat representing Kengtung Township’s constituency No. 2.
At the USDP press conference on 22 November, Nandar Hla Myint complained that the UEC had not shown itself to be receptive to political parties’ concerns about its handling of Burma’s electoral process. This week’s summons was an improvement in that regard, he said.
“I think that it is a good chance to meet with the UEC. We requested to meet with them but they didn’t reply. Now, they have summoned me. I will discuss how to continue the relationship between parties and the UEC,” he said.
In response, the election commission’s chairman said on 24 November: “If those political parties continue to make unfounded accusations, we will have no choice but to deal with them.”
DVB reached out to the commission for comment on Thursday but was not successful.
Replacing Tin Aye, Hla Thein was appointed chair of the UEC by NLD President Htin Kyaw in March 2016. Tin Aye, a former general who was appointed by Htin Kyaw’s predecessor Thein Sein of the USDP, was heavily scrutinised in the lead-up to Burma’s 2015 general election, but in the aftermath received widespread praise for presiding over a nationwide vote that was deemed free and fair.