Better not bring any "unfounded accusations"

While Burma’s new parliament has been seated for almost three months now, the Elections Commission has decided it will hear some of the complaints leftover from last November’s election. The statistics are revealing – of the 29 cases filed, 27 are by candidates from the pro-government USDP, while only 2 are from the opposition. However, another piece in an Irrawaddy article caught my eye:

A fee of 1 million kyat (US $1,136) is required to file an election fraud lawsuit with the authorities, and it carries a possible two-year jail term if the case is lost.

On Nov. 17, the EC told candidates who planned to challenge election results that they could be fined 300,000 kyat ($340) and sentenced to three years in prison if their accusations are deemed to be unfounded.

I have no background in election law, so I can’t really compare these punishments to other countries. However, they do seem somewhat harsh, especially given the vagueness of the term “unfounded accusations.” This all should discourage election-related litigation, and perhaps makes it all the more remarkable that opposition candidates have even filed any complaints. It will be interesting to see whether the cases are decidedly fairly. Last year, the commission received mixed reviews in that regard.

One might hope that by raising litigation costs, the commission would then decide any cases that it does receive impartially and efficiently. In other authoritarian regimes, high barriers to litigation or restrictions on the court’s jurisdiction have actually made the regime feel more secure in allowing some level of judges independence. For Burma, that might take some time, but might not be impossible over the longer term.

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