ANFREL Webinar Series: Cooperation among election stakeholders needed for elections amid COVID-19 pandemic to succeed

Elections during the COVID-19 pandemic can succeed when election stakeholders cooperate among each other, said panelists of the ANFREL webinar on COVID-19 and the 2020 General Elections in Myanmar.

Mr. Kyaw Htin of the New Myanmar Foundation said stakeholders need to cooperate among each other and share information. He said transparency on the preparations for the election and providing detailed guidelines on the conduct of election are also important.

Cooperation among various election stakeholders helped the Election Commission of Sri Lanka organize the recently concluded 2020 Parliamentary Elections, said Deputy Commissioner J.A.S.P. Jayasinghe. The election conducted on 5 August 2020 saw a voter turnout of more than 70 percent.

Asst. Commissioner Suranga Ranasinghe said from the beginning, when the threat of the COVID-19 to the election was becoming more imminent, the commission started developing the guidelines and identifying the requirements for the conduct of the election.

The Election Commission of Sri Lanka worked with health authorities to come up with health guidelines for the conduct of the election. Among the general guidelines enforced were: hand sanitizing, social distancing, and protection through use of face masks. The guidelines helped secure the health and safety of voters and the election staff who worked throughout the electoral process.

Prior to the election, the commission organized mock polls and mock counting to identify critical areas that need to be addressed, Jayasinghe said. Health officials were also deployed on election day to ensure that the health guidelines are being followed.

(Top, L-R) Election Commission of Sri Lanka Asst. Commissioner Suranga Ranasinghe, Deputy Commissioner J.A.S.P. Jayasingh and Deputy Commissioner S. Achchuthan.
(Bottom, L-R) Daw Yu Yu Swe of the Myanmar Independent Living Initiative and Mr. Kyaw Htin of the New Myanmar Foundation.

ANFREL invited representatives from the Election Commission of Sri Lanka to share their experience in organizing the election amid the COVID-19 pandemic as Myanmar is also set to hold its General Election on 8 November 2020 under similar circumstances.

Jayasinghe and Ranasinghe were joined by Deputy Commissioner S. Achchuthan who shared the background of Election Commission and the political background of Sri Lanka. Daw Yu Yu Swe of the Myanmar Independent Living Initiative - MILI moderated the discussion.

Mr. Kyaw Htin said the Union Election Commission of Myanmar has issued guidelines on campaigning as the election campaign period started on 8 October 2020. Due to the resurgence of virus transmission in Myanmar, restrictions were reimposed making campaigning difficult for many political parties.

He said candidates said they face difficulties in campaigning because of the current restrictions. He also said fake news and hate speech online are among the challenges that election stakeholders face.

He also said that looking at the experience of Sri Lanka, political parties, civil society organizations, health authorities and the election management body should cooperate to prepare for the election. Access to information should also be upheld and protected where transparency of the preparation process, planning different scenarios, and informing voters of the details of the conduct of election are needed.

This webinar is part of a series of webinars which aims to create public awareness on democratic elections and a platform for various groups to discuss election issues in the lead up to the 2020 Myanmar General Election.

The ANFREL Webinar Series previously discussed the importance of inclusiveness in elections and candidate registration, voter list display and voter education. ANFREL is holding monthly webinar sessions to provide a platform for civil society organizations to discuss election-related issues and promote democratic elections in Myanmar.

This program would not have been possible without the generous support from the Canadian Embassy in Yangon and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

WATCH HERE: "ANFREL Webinar Series: COVID-19 and the 2020 General Elections in Myanmar"

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