ADR Case Study: Myanmar
Myanmar presents an example of the importance of establishing rules and providing training for election officials on mediation techniques and education for stakeholders. These elements ensure that there is a defined and consistent process and practice. Myanmar’s experience in 2020 also shows the importance of reporting and communicating on the ADR process to enhance public trust in the Union Election Commission (UEC) and the entire election process. The unconstitutional and illegal actions of the military in the post-election period irrefutably tainted the 2020 election process and the perception of EDR and ADR mechanisms. While these ADR mechanisms could not have prevented military coups, their use should still be encouraged to resolve local community disputes in Myanmar, outside of elections. The participation of women and the enthusiasm of mediators in taking part in dialogue and reaching settlement confirmed to IFES the importance of expanding mediation in Myanmar.137
In Myanmar, with the exception of voter registration and candidate nomination objections, the EDR process is centralized in the capital, Naypyidaw. The system for resolution of election results petitions does not provide for an independent and impartial arbiter, nor for judicial review of UEC or Election Tribunal decisions. In an effort to defuse tensions during the pre-election period and address the lack of decentralized adjudication mechanisms, the UEC established election mediation committees (EMCs) for the first time in 2015. The commission issued a notification at the start of the campaign period, which did not include many details about the mandate or the roles and responsibilities of the committees. The absence of rules or training in 2015 left the door open for inconsistency across Myanmar’s regions and states. In some instances of mediation, the major political parties reached a resolution to the detriment of the weaker party or independent candidates by means of an unequal process in which the weaker party did not have a fair opportunity to contribute its views.
In 2020, the UEC adopted an amendment to its regulations to institutionalize EMCs for pre-election disputes. The challenges mentioned above were partly remedied in the 2020 general election preparations through the training of more than 850 election officials—chairs of EMCs—at the township, district, and regional levels. The UEC, with the support of IFES, developed an EMC guidebook and a voter education poster on the role of mediation committees; produced an EMC training video; and disseminated frequently asked questions to inform candidates, political parties, and voters of this mechanism for dealing with disputes from the start of the campaign up to Election Day. EMCs played a prominent role in resolving disputes in the pre-election period, which observers commended (see text box and graphic, next page).138 Similarly, the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) reported that stakeholders found EMCs resolved election disputes promptly during the campaign and that the disputes escalated beyond the township level.
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As EMCs played a vital role in Myanmar’s elections, it is essential to monitor their progress in mediating political party disputes, identify gaps and challenges, and consider improvements to EMCs for future elections. Unfortunately, the UEC did not gather official data on EMCs’ resolution of disputes and failed to communicate to the public information on the outcomes of the mediation process and the nature of the disputes addressed. Increased transparency about this encouraging mode of resolution of pre-election disputes could have helped build trust in the UEC.
In 2020, the EMC handbook included a requirement to include at least one woman on every committee. When the UEC requested that relevant institutions nominate representatives to form the mediation committee, it insisted on the need for gender inclusion. As a result, the representation of women increased significantly on these committees, with the UEC reporting a total of 18 percent to 20 percent women per EMC formed at the township, district, and regional levels. This contrasted favorably with the complete absence of women as members of the UEC or the Election Tribunals in 2020.139
Further research is needed to determine the impact of women’s membership on the EMCs in the community. One positive potential impact is that participation in ADR bodies during elections can build women’s skills at the local level and enhance community involvement in the dispute resolution part of the election process. Women’s involvement in ADR mechanisms can also set a precedent for their increased roles in mediating other types of disputes outside election periods.
An internal monitoring report compiled by IFES140 after the 2020 elections indicated noted a total of 1,010 EMC meetings. Most of the EMCs (90 percent) from the region/state, district, and township levels reported holding at least one meeting; 601 disputes were submitted to EMCs across Myanmar. The number of disputes received per EMC ranged from one to 25. Of 397 EMCs, 180 (45 percent) received disputes. Even when EMCs did not receive any disputes, most held at least an introductory meeting to explain the role of EMCs and the applicable laws and rules during the campaign.141
132 EISA election observer mission to the 11 August 2016 general elections and referendum in the Republic of Zambia - Preliminary Statement. (2016, August 13). https://www.eisa.org/pdf/zam2016eom0.pdf
133 European Union election observation mission final report: Republic of Zambia – General elections and referendum 11 August 2016. (2016). https://www.eods.eu/library/final_report_eu_eom_zambia.pdf
134 The Carter Center. (2016). The Carter Center’s experts’ mission to the Zambian presidential and parliamentary elections 2016 – Final report. https://aceproject.org/ero-en/regions/africa/ZM/zambia-final-report-limited-observation-mission-to/view?set_language=en
135 United Nations Development Programme Zambia. (n.d.). Consolidation of the Electoral Process in Zambia: Support to the 2015–2017 Electoral Cycle - Project Document. https://info.undp.org/docs/pdc/Documents/ZMB/Final%20Draft%20Prodoc18_06.doc
136 Chasulwa, P. An evaluation of the effectiveness of conflict management committees (CMCs) in the management of electoral conflicts in Zambia. The International Journal of Multi-Disciplinary Research. http://www.multiresearch.net/cms/publications/CFP8882018.pdf
137 Several organizations have led successful mediation projects at the community level in Myanmar. These include Mercy Corps, with which IFES partnered on the design of the EMC training curriculum and selection of trainers/mediators in 2020.
138 The Carter Center. (2020. November 10). Election observation mission Myanmar, general election, November 8, 2020: Preliminary statement. https://www.cartercenter.org/resources/pdfs/news/peace_publications/election_reports/myanmar-preliminary-statement-112020.pdf
139 IFES Myanmar. EMC 2020 elections [Internal report].
140 The role of election mediation committees in the 2020 general elections in Myanmar [unpublished manuscript].