Less than two weeks before Burma’s general election, the Union Election Commission (UEC) has announced that the poll will not be held in two more townships and an additional 50 village tracts in Shan State.
The commission announced on Tuesday that the election will not be held in the entirety of Mong Hsu and Kyethi townships, as well as eight village-tracts in Tangyan Township and 42 village-tracts in Hopang Township. All have been the site of recent clashes between the military and the Shan State Army-North.
One of Burma’s strongest ethnic political parties, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), issued a statement condemning the commission’s decision, stating that “the decision was one-sided and based on the request of a party which doesn’t have a chance to win.”
The request for the cancelation was lodged by the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP), an ally of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and rival to the SNLD, citing the ongoing conflict as an impediment to the conduct of a safe ballot. The UEC’s decision has brought the number of townships either partly or wholly barred from voting on Nov. 8 to 17.
On Thursday, The Irrawaddy discussed the latest developments in Shan State with Khun Tun Oo, the leader of the SNLD.
Why do you think the UEC has canceled the vote in so many areas of Shan State?
They worry that we will make a coalition with the NLD (National League for Democracy). They are afraid we will combine our strength with (NLD leader) Aung San Suu Kyi in Union Parliament. So they did that to reduce our strength.
The 2008 Constitution was approved right after Cyclone Nargis hit, and there were no postponements in Chin and Arakan states this year, where floods and heavy rains hit worst.
So, we can’t accept this. It is not fair. We would like to ask the UEC how they know in advance that the fighting will continue over the next 10 days.
Although the commission office in Kyethi was attacked, our party candidate in Mong Hsu also told us conditions are not bad enough to justify canceling the election. The refugees are also going back to their homes. Nothing is happening in Hopang.
How does this affect the SNLD’s prospects for the election?
We have now lost at least 10 candidates for the Union Parliament and the regional legislature. Even before the race started, we were being taken out. When the race starts, they will also do some tricky things.
The election is no longer the all-inclusive, fair and free election that they said they wanted.
Was your party likely to win in those areas?
It is very sure that we would have. We are supposed to win in all those areas. The SNDP said to postpone the elections in the areas where they could lose. Why didn’t the UEC take a survey on the ground themselves? They should have confirmed with their eyes. Since they didn’t do that, we have been harmed.
If I were the chairman of the white tiger party (a reference to the party logo of SNDP), I would not oppose the election, because it means that our ethnic residents lose their right to vote. They will now go without representatives. They will have to wait for byelections, or possibly five years for the next election.
What you would like to say to the election commission?
They promised transparency, no bias and a free election. We collected 5,000 signatures from voters in Mong Hsu and sent them to the Loilen district sub-commission today, asking them to hold the elections. But I don’t think they will, because it is obvious that they are doing this to prevent us from forming a coalition with the NLD. I have no more faith in the UEC.