By: Danny Lee, Director of Community Affairs Development at the ASEAN Secretariat.


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ASEAN Secretariat Team Plans Observation Mission

After a week of intense preparations that saw a continuous stream of emails and telephone calls that span Jakarta, Yangon, Singapore, and even Rome — where Dr Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General of ASEAN, was on a mission — members of the ASEAN Secretariat Election Observation Team arrived last night in Yangon.

Led by Dr Mely Anthony, Director of External Relations, the rest of the team includes: Special Advisor to the Secretary-General Rajaretnam; Assistant Director and Head of Public Outreach Durudee Sirichanya; Head of Administration Henry Gultom, and me–Director of Community Affairs Development Danny Lee.  The team is assisted by Senior Officers Khine Myat Chit and Kay Khaing Soe, two Myanmar colleagues from the ASEAN Secretariat (ASEC).

Accompanying the ASEC team are Channel News Asia Indonesia Bureau Chief Sujadi Siswo, and ASEAN and Metro TV Producer and Presenter Dalton Tanonaka from Indonesia. Ms Monnita Komolvadhin, Editor from Thailand’s PBS TV, is expected to join us this morning.

On 20 March, the Myanmar government invited the ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN Member States, as well as the European Union and the United States to send observation teams to witness the by-elections on 1 April 2012. Along with each observation team, three media were also invited to accompany them.

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Nuns crossing Yangon Street

The move immediately generated wide excitement. As media around the world went to picked-up the news, intense lobbying started among media members, as each try to secure a place to cover the by-elections.

The invitation is just one of the series of changes which Myanmar has introduced, since it started on the route to reforms. In 2010, observers from the diplomatic corps were invited to witness the General Elections.

During a meeting in Myanmar in February, Dr Surin had suggested to President Thein Sein, that Myanmar should invite observers from ASEAN countries, and perhaps their local media, to witness the April by-elections. President Thein Sein replied then that he would “seriously consider” the proposal.

Displaying the confidence and the determination, Myanmar not only accepted Dr Surin’s recommendation, it went one step further, and widened its invitation beyond ASEAN.

Hence, it was no surprise to find long queues at the Yangon Airport. Myanmar was already attracting a growing stream of visitors since it introduced reforms, and the invitation on 20 March had caused a surge.

GSM phone cards are selling fast–even sold out at the airport. Our friends in Myanmar are all poised to comb the city to uncover the desirable phone cards.

Drive from the airport to our hotel was smooth. People seemed to continue with life as normal–drinking at cafes, dining at restaurants, walking about the shopping streets.

This morning, government officials will brief all observers on the mission. Watch this space!

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Political Party Headquarter Open to Visitors