Myanmar Election Commission Visits Indonesia
May 20, 2015
Myanmar is preparing for historic elections later this year, but with the country’s limited electoral experience, voter outreach and education are critical challenges. Recently, The Asia Foundation sponsored a study tour for a delegation from Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC) to Indonesia, which itself has undergone a democratic transition and recently held general elections.
The UEC delegation was headed by Commissioner Win Kyi, who oversees voter education and outreach efforts, and included Deputy Director General Nay Myo and Deputy Director of the Yangon Region Election Sub-Commission Khin Zaw Tun. The study tour aimed to acquaint the Myanmar delegation with voter education and outreach tools used by Indonesia’s General Elections Commission (KPU) and local civil society organizations, especially technologies to enhance voters’ access to election-related information and to engage young and first-time voters through the mobile phone platform.
KPU Chairman Husini Kamil Manik, Commissioners Hadar Nafis Gumay and Ferry Kurnia Rizkiansyah, and Secretary General Arif Rahman Hakin welcomed the Myanmar delegation. They shared their experiences of previous elections in Indonesia, with particular emphasis on improving electoral management through stakeholder consultations, new technology, and a commitment to voter access to essential election data. As an example, the KPU developed the largest centralized database of registered voters in the world for the 2014 general elections, allowing voters to easily check the status of their registration. The Myanmar delegation presented an overview of their upcoming elections, and discussed challenges – many common to both countries – such as ensuring the accuracy of voter lists, conducting effective voter outreach and education within resource constraints, and the complexity of administering elections in difficult geographical areas. Photo/KPU.
The Myanmar delegation also met with Perludem, the Indonesian Association for Elections and Democracy, a leading civil society organization. During Indonesia’s 2014 elections, Perludem and The Asia Foundation worked together to create the first, detailed, publicly accessible archive of elections data and made it available through an open-source application programming interface called API Pemilu (or Elections API). Indonesian election and candidate data has been accessed through API Pemilu by over seven million unique users, recording more than 100 million hits in less than one year. The Foundation and the UEC are now considering this approach for Myanmar, where detailed information on candidates is more difficult to obtain. Photo/ The Asia Foundation.
The three-member UEC delegation was accompanied by Mi Ki Kyaw Myint and Susan Lee of The Asia Foundation’s Myanmar office, and Andrew Thornley, director of the Foundation’s elections program in Indonesia. At Google’s Jakarta office, they learned how Google engaged Indonesian voters and provided access to 2014 elections information using online services. These included a dedicated elections page with elections-related search analytics, voter education videos, and an interactive candidate map, created in collaboration with Perludem and The Asia Foundation. The meeting concluded with a discussion of Google’s potential programming for the coming elections in Myanmar. Photo/Agunu.
The UEC delegates found it instructive to visit the Institute for Inclusion and Advocacy of Persons with Disabilities (SIGAB), a disability rights organization in Yogyakarta, as disabled access has not been a priority in previous Myanmar elections. SIGAB has advocated among city election officials for voter education and accessible voting for persons with disabilities, and for election-day monitoring of polling sites to protect voter rights. Muhammad Joni Yulianto, founder and director of SIGAB, is a 2015 Asia Foundation Development Fellow. Photo/SIGAB.
A meeting with the Yogyakarta Election Commission included a discussion on the possibilities for inclusive elections when government and CSOs work together. Wawan Budianto, chairman of the commission, described working with CSOs to develop election materials in braille, design voting booths for people with mobility impairments, train and support lower-level election officers, and coordinate with ad hoc commissions and volunteer organizations. He said the biggest obstacle to these efforts was election managers’ lack of awareness of the rights of the disabled, but he noted that the close collaboration among stakeholders had resulted in a very important step in the right direction: during the 2014 elections, Yogyakarta was the first subnational election commission in Indonesia to provide inclusive and accessible procedures for disabled voters. Photo/ The Asia Foundation.
The meaningful participation of women voters is a key priority of the UEC. During the study tour, delegates met with Solidaritas Perempuan, an organization that has worked for more than a decade as an advocate for women’s rights in Indonesia. With support from The Asia Foundation, Solidaritas Perempuan has offered political education for women in marginalized communities in five provinces of Indonesia, and they shared some of their challenges and achievements. The UEC is now considering election collaborations with Myanmar CSOs, so the delegates were interested in details such as how facilitators are selected and trained, and how they engage women in their communities. Photo/ The Asia Foundation.
A highlight of the UEC study tour was a meeting with a group of women on the outskirts of Jakarta who had participated in Solidaritas Perempuan’s voter education program. They told the delegation that the training had increased their confidence and access to information, empowering them to learn about the candidates and make their own voting decisions. It also inspired them to actively communicate with candidates, elected representatives, and policymakers about the most pressing issues facing their community. The delegates were especially impressed with the women’s initiative in organizing their community to press the local authorities for change. Photo/ The Asia Foundation.
Susan Lee is a senior program officer and Mi Ki Kyaw Myint is a program officer for The Asia Foundation in Myanmar. They can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, not those of The Asia Foundation.
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