UN rights expert warns of election turmoil in Myanmar

UN rights expert warns of election turmoil in Myanmar
A supporter of the army-backed ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) holds posters bearing the portrait of Myanmar President Thein Sein during a campaign rally in the town of Tat Kone on the outskirts of Myanmar's capital city of Naypyidaw on October 28, 2015.
PHOTO: AFP

UNITED NATIONS, United States - A UN rights expert warned Thursday of turmoil in Myanmar if next week's landmark elections fall short of expectations for a credible vote.

The November 8 vote is seen as the freest and fairest in decades as Myanmar moves away from military rule, but Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur for Myanmar, raised a long list of concerns.

Dozens of candidates have been disqualified, hundreds of thousands of people who had cast ballots in previous polls have been disenfranchised, freedom of assembly is being curtailed and there is widespread intimidation, said Lee.

"The period after the elections -- prior to the elections for a new president and the formation of a new government -- may see instability and tension if the election outcomes are not widely accepted as credible and legitimate," Lee told a news conference.

A South Korean university professor and rights advocate, Lee said 50 candidates were disqualified from running, many of whom are Muslims from volatile Rakhine State.

The candidates were barred from standing because they hold foreign citizenship or their parents have foreign passports, an issue that has stoked tensions in the state.

Voting will not take place in northern Shan and Kachin states bordering China due to conflict, and recent flooding has caused major logistical problems.

The rights expert pointed to the presence of international observers as key to ensuring that the elections are credible.

"All of the people of Myanmar are really excited about this. It's really a historic moment," said Lee. "But unfortunately, many will not take part in the election process."

This week, Lee presented her annual report to the UN General Assembly, which is set to once again adopt a resolution calling for more progress in Myanmar toward democratic rule.

"These are not insurmountable challenges but they cannot be swept under the rug," she said.

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