Rather than trying to hamper Myanmar’s vote, embassy and consulate staff are doing their best to enfranchise fellow citizens.
Amid political reforms and the transformation from a military dictatorship to a more liberal and democratic nation, Myanmar’s 2015 election, to be held on 8 November, is a hot topic generating major attention all over the world.
In the lead up to the vote October has been a very busy month for Myanmar embassies and consulates across the globe, as they grapple with the task of managing advanced voting for citizens living abroad.
It is an unprecedented task and it is not without problems.
Unfortunately, a great number of overseas voters are facing major inconveniences, confusion, and even disappointment and anger when their right to vote is undermined by logistical errors and poor planning.
This has been because their names are excluded from voters’ lists or insufficient ballots have been sent to missions.
These problems are due to administrative drawbacks, logistical challenges, and technical errors within the Union Election Commission, or UEC – the government body charged with running the 2015 vote.
But it is the Myanmar embassies and their staff that are left to mop up and deal with complaints.
Since advanced voting started, social media has been inundated by discontented posts from overseas voters expressing their feelings. Some are frustrated and disappointed.
“Our citizenship rights are missing,” they claim. “Why am I stateless?” they ask.
“We are not very happy that the voting process cannot be finished in one day.”
“I wrote ‘Singapore’ in form 15 [the voters’ registration form], but now they said that my ballot is in Korea. I cannot vote.”
“I’m waiting here all night to vote. Now my name is not included, I cannot vote. I feel very sad.”
But many also pour their anger directly on Myanmar missions and their staff. A lack of trust in government often leads overseas voters to mistakenly conclude that Myanmar missions are deliberately creating difficulties for advanced voting.
And while we have heard a crescendo of overseas voters’ voices across mainstream and social media, many of the voices in Myanmar’s embassies remain unheard.
This is simply unfair and unhelpful. Even though embassies are trying their best to afford voters their inherent right to vote, some of the issues are absolutely out of their control.
In the Myanmar Embassy in Canberra, complaints regarding the overseas vote are real and are being taken seriously. There’s no denying that. But what is also important to note, is that staff from that same embassy have also felt the impact of logistical problems.
For example, one potential voter who is also a government scholar, has had to transfer their right to vote to another overseas voter who is coming to Canberra from another Australian city.
The problem is that only one ballot arrived at the Embassy for two voters from the same region, instead of two. One voter is a diplomat, and another one is a general citizen. But in this situation, the diplomat has had to sacrifice their right to vote.
Who can say that they do not want to vote? They are also a citizen, and should have the full right to choose a political party as they wish. But they will most likely miss out. But they have happily given up this right so that a fellow citizen is not denied their chance.
These dedicated staff are unsung heroes, who want to see Myanmar citizens happily voting; it is completely wrong to claim that they are the people creating problems and inconveniences for overseas voters.
Instead, they are left at the front line, dealing with the difficulties and complaints, while also trying to provide fellow citizens facing problems with the chance to vote again.
Most importantly, they are fellow people, whose right to vote isn’t guaranteed either.
Khaing Sandi Win Min is studying a Masters of International Relations at the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, the Australian National University.
This article forms part of New Mandala’s ‘Myanmar and the vote’ series.