People with Disabilities
According to the 2014 census, Myanmar has more than 2.3 million persons with disabilities, accounting for 4.7% of the total national population. Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2011 represented a significant milestone in the promotion of equality for this community. On 5 June 2015 the President signed the Persons with Disabilities Rights Act into law, attempting to give effect to the Convention through transposition into domestic legislation. Enabling regulations are still awaited in order to give full effect to the provisions of the new Act. Nonetheless, the law clearly states that persons with disabilities have the right to vote and the right to be candidates in any parliamentary election. It imposes an obligation on the authorities to facilitate the exercise of voting rights by persons with disabilities.
The UEC consulted representatives of persons with disabilities during the course of their electoral preparations. Minor amendments to electoral law allowed voters with disabilities to use trusted friends in casting their vote, freeing them from potential family pressure. Polling station manuals contained two pages of advice for staff detailing their responsibilities in making their polling stations accessible, and in assisting persons with special needs to cast their votes. EU EOM observers noted, however, that one in four of polling stations observed were not accessible to voters with disabilities. A few model polling stations, facilitating optimal access, were put in place, but the number of these only just reached double figures. It was, nevertheless, a positive initiative which could be developed more widely in the future. Trial use of a tactile Braille ballot guide (TBG) was observed by the EOM in a polling station set up in a school for those with visual impairments in Yangon, of whom were reported to have voted using the TBG. Again, this is a positive initiative which could be extended in the future.
All voter education materials of the UEC included images of persons with disabilities as voters, and sign language was incorporated in television broadcasts. Disabled persons organisations engaged in extensive education work with their own community, encouraging people to vote, and to vote in person on Election Day rather than use the facility of advance voting. The Myanmar Initiative for Independent Living convened two fora with election candidates, in Yangon and Mandalay, in which candidates were encouraged to include disability rights within their election manifestoes. The first person readily identifying himself as a person living with a disability, U Saw Thura Aung Kyaw, was elected in Bago to the regional Hluttaw on behalf of the NLD.
There were a big number of minorities excluded from the 2015 Elections. Human Rights Watch has estimated around 4 million people, which is more than 10% of 33.5 million official eligible voters. Some 800,000 former “temporary citizens”, many of them Muslim Rohingya have been disenfranchised. In previous elections, they were allowed to vote even though they had white cards as temporary identification for non-citizens, but not in 2015 elections. Between 100-500,000 people in isolated ethnic areas or internal migrant workers, such as workers in slums in Yangon are also not registered.
EU EOM Myanmar General Elections 2015 Final Report, (2015), European Union,
Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Antoni Slodkowski, Around 4 Million Voters shut out of Historic Myanmar Election, Rauters, (Oct. 20, 2015), http://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-election-voters-insight-idUSKCN0SE2GN20151020.
Chloe White, The November 2015 Myanmar Elections, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security (2015),