Poll watchdog sounds alarm over low by-election turnout


YANGON — Poll officials must study the reasons for low turnout during the weekend’s by-election contests to avoid public disengagement in future votes, an international monitoring mission has said.

The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), releasing its interim report into the by-elections on Monday, said that low voter education and a belief among the public that the vote was not important had significantly reduced turnout from the 2015 general election.

“Among the major concerns coming out of this by-election is the low voter turnout, which is hopefully not representative of a larger trend and should be addressed so as to avoid repeating,” the interim report noted, adding that observers found a noticeable “lack of voter education and voter awareness” in the constituencies that voted on the weekend.

On Sunday, Union Election Commission chief U Tin Tun told reporters that turnout had dropped from 78 percent to 48 percent of voters in the Sagaing Region capital of Monywa, 37 percent to 12 percent in the industrial township of Hlaing Tharyar in Yangon’s west, and from 48 percent to 29 percent in the outer eastern Yangon township of Dagon Seikkan.

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Polls for a total of 12 Union and seven state seats were held on Saturday. Six of the seats had not voted in the 2015 election due to clashes between the Tatmadaw and the Shan State Progress Party in central Shan State.

Turnout was down across the board in the remaining 13 constituencies, with the lowest drop in Chaungzon (44 percent in 2015 compared to 38 percent on the weekend), where the National League for Democracy suffered an upset loss to the Union Solidarity and Development Party.

ANFREL urged the UEC to improve its voter education efforts while praising the commission’s successful supervision and conduct of the by-election contests, noting the lack of serious incidents and the increased participation of female candidates.

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