For 53-year-old cartoonist Hla Khin, appearing in court will be a novel experience. The resident of Yangon’s South Dagon township said he felt humiliated after police informed him that he was to be charged with an offence related to Myanmar’s Nov. 8 election.
Polling station representatives from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) had filed a complaint against him for sealing the ballot boxes containing advance votes inside four polling stations on election day.
Hla Khin, local chairman of the campaign committee for the National League for Democracy (NLD), which won the election by a landslide, told Myanmar Now that he had worked together with local election commission officials.
“Some party representatives complained that the ballot boxes containing advance votes were not sealed at 12 polling stations in our ward. So I discussed with the secretary of the ward election commission and took responsibility for sealing the ballot boxes.
“I requested permission from the polling station officers and sealed the boxes only when they let me. But after doing that in four polling stations, other polling station officers asked me not to do it so I stopped,” he told Myanmar Now, sipping tea at a roadside teashop.
The USDP representative has accused him of entering the polling stations without permission, an offence under article 59 of the election law, but Hla Khin said he would prove he sealed the boxes with permission from ward election officials. In the meantime, he has filed a counter lawsuit against his accusers for defamation.
According to the electoral laws in Myanmar, complaints over behaviour that violate the election law must be made within 15 days of the election.
In that time period - between Nov. 8 to Nov. 24 - there were 422 complaints made at police stations across the country, statistics from the Myanmar Police Force show. Despite repeated calls to the police and the Union Election Commission (UEC), Myanmar Now was unable to find out how many complaints there were in the 2010 elections.
A majority of the cases are reciprocal complaints from two of the country’s biggest parties - the USDP and the NLD. They range from the trivial to the serious - disturbances, misuse of authorities in campaigning activities, brawls, provocation and obstruction were just some of the causes cited.
None of the cases have been concluded.
These complaints would not lead to the disqualification of candidates, but they hint at bitter feelings between the two rival parties at local level despite the conciliatory tone of the leaders following USDP’s humiliating defeat.
One of the complaints came from Ohn Myint, current Union Minister for Livestock and Fisheries and Rural Development, who contested the Kyauktan Township in Yangon.
He accused his opponent Aye Mya Mya Myo from the NLD, to whom he lost a Lower House seat, and other members of the party of obstructing the USDP’s campaign with cars and motorcycles.
Aye Mya Mya Myo, however, said the police did not inform her about the complaint. Upon investigation, she discovered that party members were charged with article 341 of the Penal Code, which concerns wrongful restraint of any person and could lead to a prison sentence under the election laws.
"We did not know Minister Ohn Myint was (in those villages). We did not event get to those places because his supporters were blocking the way and we wanted to avoid any problems," Aye Ma Ma Myo said.
"This is an unjust complaint. We don’t know what will happen as we were not informed about the charge but we are now consulting with our lawyer. I want to focus only my job, and don't want to get into trouble with anyone," she added.
MANY COMPLAINTS IN YANGON
Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, had the higher number of complaints filed, with 58 cases.
Nyunt Tin, director of Election Tribunal, however, said they had yet to receive any complaints that could lead to the disqualification of elected candidates, which relates to Chapter 14 of the Union Election Commission Law.
Sai Kyaw Thu, director at the UEC, said current complaints to the police come under Chapter 13 of the Election Law which covers police cases.
“Anyone who is concerned with the elections can be charged within 15 days from the day after polling day. Roughly, the police cases cover allegations where people are accused of voting twice, substitute voters, voting on behalf of someone else, use of power in voting, and disturbing the other voters,” he said.
If found guilty, defendants could be sentenced to one year imprisonment or a 100,000 Kyats ($77) fine, while the false complainant may be handed a three year sentence or a 300,000 Kyats ($231) fine.
If a complaint were to be lodged under Chapter 14 of Union Election Commission Law, however, only a rival candidate or a voter in a specific constituency can do so, Sai Kyaw Thu said.
Chapter 14 stipulates that it is unlawful for an election candidate or his/her representative to bribe, disturb the elections, urge any voter to bring the ballot paper outside the polling station, or ask the voters to vote for or against a certain political party.
The law also prohibits publishing campaign statements, documents and posters without mentioning the names and addresses of the printer and publishers. It also stipulates actions can be taken against if campaign finances are incorrectly stated or if the candidates fail to submit them.
If found guilty, the candidates can be disqualified.
These complaints can be made within 45 days of the elections, and require the complainant deposit 500,000 kyats with the UEC.
A police officer from Thingangyun Police Station said the complaint that covers from Article 57 to 63 in Chapter 13 of Election Law can be filed at a police station, and the lawsuit can be filed at the township court.
Although police can arrest the defendant, he can be released on bail. However, a false complaint is concerned with Article 64, and the complainant cannot be released on bail.
Hla Khin from South Dagon, who has been summoned to appear in court on Dec. 9 , said his conscience is clear.
Courtesy of Myanmar Now