Nov. 8 promises be a historic day for the people of Burma, as voters take part in the nation's first free general election in 25 years. But only if they’re on the list.
While advanced voting has begun for Burmese citizens abroad, many at home are still waiting to see if they will be allowed to go to the polls.
Burma’s Union Election Commission (UEC) announced last week that it will release the official list of eligible voters on Nov. 2, leaving less than a week to correct any errors in what could be a list of over 30 million people.
Preliminary lists have drawn widespread criticism including complaints of misspellings, incorrect birth dates and alphabetical lists thousands of names long. In one township, a member of the National League for Democracy party (NLD) claimed the names of 50 deceased people weren’t removed from a preliminary list even after they made complaints.
“The list produced the last time seemed to be correct but instead was totally and completely wrong,” said Tin Oo, a founding member of the NLD. Much of the confusion came from the UEC’s decision to alphabetize the lists, which citizens said made finding names inconvenient. In the past, names were listed by family, under the father’s name.
For many in Burma, also known as Myanmar, the only way to check if one’s name is present is to visit the local election subcommission office and scour the sometimes multi-paged, wall-length spreadsheet of names for their area.
The UEC’s early reliance on outdated housing registration data is one reason the lists have been so flawed. Another explanation, some say, could be more nefarious.
“This is the time to get the true collection of the voter list,” said Oo, 88. “But the government does not prefer to keep the list a good one.”
The list is only one of many controversies surrounding the election. Another is the exclusion of entire townships from the election either because of flooding or war.
The UEC was also criticized last month when employees exported a portion of the voter list for the Ayeyarwady region to Microsoft Excel but left the rest in another piece of software.
“One operator said she preferred the first database for its auto-fill capabilities, while another rated Excel higher as it didn’t lag,” the Myanmar Times reported.