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World Will Be Watching Myanmar’s Elections


Yanghee Lee is the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar.

Yanghee Lee is the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar.


Myanmar will hold elections November 8. It will be the first general election in 25 years for the country, also known as Burma.

A nominally civilian government took power in 2011. But the armed forces remain firmly in control of the political process.

Aung San Suu Kyi heads the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy. She has called on international observers to become actively involved in the election process.

The European Union says it will have 30 long-term observers in Myanmar during the election. The EU said it will deploy more than 60 short-term observers across country. The American-based Carter Center also is sending election observers.

The National League for Democracy won 43 seats in parliamentary by-elections in 2012. The party won the general elections in 1990, but the country’s military rulers ignored the results.

This week, an NLD campaign rally in Yangon was attacked, leaving a local lawmaker and two other men injured. Officials said several men armed with knives attacked the gathering.

The attack is likely to raise fears of violence before the general election. On Thursday, a United Nations human rights investigator called for the elections to be inclusive, free and credible.

U.N. Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee expressed concern that universal rights, such as freedom of expression, assembly and association, have been restricted.

She also noted religious discrimination. She said that many Muslim voters and candidates have been barred from the election.

Yanghee Lee said the largest number of excluded candidates is from Rakhine State. Among voters, she says, nearly 800,000 people who had the right to vote in the 2010 and 2012 elections are not permitted to vote this year.

She said they were told their temporary registration documents are no longer accepted. This includes many people of Chinese or Indian ancestry, but mainly Rohingya from Rakhine State.

More than 100,000 Muslims from the Rohingya minority have been living in camps after religious violence in Rakhine State. Tens of thousands of Rohingya are believed to have fled the country by boat.

Earlier this year, President Thein Sein canceled the voting rights of all Rohingya.

United States officials say the government in Myanmar has promised the vote will be free and fair. U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes met with reporters in Yangon last week.

He spoke about his meetings with Myanmar officials, political parties and civil society groups. Rhodes said he was satisfied with the answers he was given at those talks.

He said the U.S. government is hopeful the election results will be honored. But he warned the government will be forced to re-examine its position if the results are not respected.

“Clearly that would represent a step backwards. And we would have to make assessments about, you know, our policies and our engagement in response to something like that.”

I’m Mario Ritter.

This story was based on reports from VOA’s United Nations correspondent Margaret Basheer and reporters Katie Arnold, Khin Soe Win and Thengi Lynn. George Grow adapted their reports for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

nominally – n. existing as something in name only; supposedly

rally – n. a political meeting or gathering

credible – adj. good enough to be believed or trusted

universal – adj. available for everyone; existing or true at all times or places

assembly – n. the act of meeting with other people

association – n. having ties with an organized group of people

excluded – adj. prevented or barred

assessments – n. making judgments or opinions about something

engagement – n. involvement with something or someone

response – n. answer or in reaction

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