The people of Myanmar (formerly Burma) are rarely allowed to vote, unless it's in a rigged election
. So I've been watching with some interest throughout the campaign season as the U.S. Embassy has urged American residents there to be full participants in the U.S. presidential race.
The embassy has organized parties at the "American Club" — a posh colonial-style retreat in the Yangon suburbs — to watch the presidential (and, yes, vice-presidential) debates. The last one is happening soon, and the latest embassy "Warden Message" also urges Americans to cast their ballot at an old-school voting booth in the newly built embassy compound.
I don't recall similar measures from the American embassy when I was living in the Czech Republic during the 2000 presidential race. But it's no secret that the American government — particularly the Bush administration — are critics of the Myanmar junta. Is all of this a way of sticking it to the ruling generals, by reminding the locals that they don't share the same democratic rights as Americans?
Why do I care? I lived in Yangon for seven months in 2006, working under censorship at The Myanmar Times
. And since I've lately been channeling
my international experience for WW, I'm pasting below an email I received today from the U.S. Embassy in Yangon (which the State Department still insists on calling by its old colonial name, Rangoon).
Dear Registered American Citizens,
Given the interest in last Wednesday's Presidential debate, the U.S. Embassy's Consular Section is pleased to announce a taped viewing of the 3rd and final Presidential debate between Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama at the American Club this Thursday, October 16th. The taped debate will begin at 6:00 p.m.
As a reminder, we will be conducting a "voting" day at the Embassy on October 17th, complete with a traditional voting booth. American citizens may come into the Embassy between the hours of 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. to complete their ballot and leave it at the Embassy for mailing on Monday, October 20th. You can also come to the Embassy on Monday morning, no later than 11:00 a.m. to cast your vote. All completed ballots should be mailed no later than October 20th in order for them to arrive in time to be counted for the election.
If we have not received your absentee ballot, you may use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot form, which the Consular section can provide. For more information on absentee voting, please see the information below.
Warden Message: Final Reminder to VOTE!
American citizens should vote now in the November 4, 2008 presidential and general elections. If you registered to vote and requested an absentee ballot by your state's deadline, you should have already received your state absentee ballot. Please return your marked ballot now!
Ballot hasn't arrived?
If your ballot has not arrived, use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB). The FWAB serves as an emergency ballot for voters who registered in time but fail to receive an official ballot from local election officials. The FWAB is available at www.fvap.gov or from any U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If your regular state ballot arrives after you have mailed the FWAB, complete and mail the state ballot as well.
Returning your ballot
Voted ballots and FWABs may be mailed to your local voting officials in the United States through first-class international mail or from any U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Last-minute voters should consider using an express courier company to deliver their ballots. A few states also accept completed ballots by fax or e-mail.
The Voting Assistance Officer at the Embassy in Rangoon is available to answer questions about absentee voting. To contact the Voting Assistance Officer, call 536-509 extension 4240 or send an e-mail to Voterangoon@state.gov.