YANGON: “Go and check the voters lists” is the persistent refrain of worried opposition activists on a door-to-door campaign in Myanmar, armed with copies of electoral rolls they say are riddled with errors and could deny many the chance to vote in a historic ballot.
Criss-crossing neighborhoods, opposition teams and activists have been trying to educate a population devoid of experience in democracy as the former military-ruled nation prepares for its most important election in a generation on November 8.
“We’ve found many mistakes, wrong names, wrong birth dates,” said Thaung Htut, an official with Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy party (NLD) who fears time is running out to amend the rolls ahead of the crunch polls.
Sitting with colleagues on tiny plastic chairs beside a Buddhist temple, he scans official preliminary voter lists posted on outdoor boards by local authorities as part of a pilot project.
They check the official lists and give residents the forms they need to demand corrections, if they find errors.
Observers say election authorities are genuinely determined to ensure the polls—the first NLD contested nationwide vote since 1990—are credible, as the world watches for a benchmark of democratic progress under the quasi civilian government that took power in 2011.
But the process of computerizing more than 30 million voter names for the first time is a major challenge in a country where the electoral system is being built from scratch.
The full rolls should be published nationwide in August and voters have until October to fix any errors.
‘Up to 80 percent error rate’
But even allowing for the goodwill of the reformist government, the NLD is scrambling to ensure the lists are checked early, fearful that huge numbers could be disenfranchised.
Lawmaker Aung San Suu Kyi—who spent some 15 years under house arrest—has raised fears that the error rate on preliminary lists is between 30 and 80 percent in certain areas of Yangon, the country’s largest and most advanced city.