When Myanmar votes next month in what has been billed as its first free and fair election in 25 years, Tun Lin, and around 4 million of his fellow citizens, won’t be taking part. Most, like the 33-year-old fisherman, are working overseas and have been unable to register, but voter lists riddled with errors and the cancellation of polling in areas affected by ethnic violence could also dent the credibility of the election. “I think that the government is not doing what it needs to do to make sure that all Burmese citizens are able to vote everywhere they are,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division. “These people are largely going to be disenfranchised because the system doesn’t encourage their participation.”
The Nov. 8 general election is a major landmark in the reform of the former pariah state that began when a military junta ceded power to a quasi-civilian government in 2011.
Myanmar’s ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is expected to be trounced by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) – whose landslide victory in a 1990 election was ignored by the junta.
In the Thai fishing port of Mahachai, 45 km (30 miles) southwest of Bangkok, many of the near 300,000-strong Myanmar migrant workforce complain of scant or confusing information that prevented them registering to vote.