RANGOON — Political parties, candidates and voters have slammed a proposal by the Union Election Commission (UEC) to postpone the Nov. 8 general elections.
Tin Aye, the UEC chair, held a meeting in Naypyidaw with seven political parties on Tuesday, asking them to consider whether the election should be delayed as a result of the widespread flooding that ravaged the country in August.
Section 10(f) of the Union Election Commission law gives the body the power to postpone and cancel elections in constituencies affected by natural disasters.
No firm timetable has been offered for a decision on the postponement, with Tin Aye saying the commission would announce a decision “soon”.
When news broke out, criticism from political parties, candidates, activists and voters was immediate and fierce.
“I can’t accept it at all,” said Mya Aye, a senior member of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, questioning why the election commission would wait months to consider a postponement in response to the floods.
“To tell you openly, they did it because they are afraid of losing in the election. Everybody knows who has the people’s support,” he added, a reference to the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD).
Political commentator Yan Myo Thein said that a nationwide postponement was unreasonable, and the UEC should have instead considered delaying the poll in disaster-hit areas.
“It is clear (the government) stubbornly held the referendum in 2008, when hundreds of thousands of people were killed by Cyclone Nargis,” he said, in reference to the former military regime’s vote on adopting a Constitution a week after the cyclone hit the Irrawaddy Delta.
“Though some places have been hit by disaster, compared to Cyclone Nargis, the situations are totally different…it will not serve the country, the people and democratic change. I totally oppose the plan to postpone the election.”
The UEC’s suggestion was supported by the incumbent Union Solidarity and Development Party, the Myanmar Farmers Development Party and the National Development Party. The NLD staunchly opposed a postponement.
“The NLD objected as the excuse was lame,” Win Htein, a member of the party’s central executive committee, told The Irrawaddy. “Even in 2008 during Cyclone Nargis, the referendum was not postponed. What happened now is not even a thousandth of the destruction we suffered at that time.”
Nyo Nyo Thin, an independent seeking election to Bahan Township in Rangoon, told The Irrawaddy that a postponement would pose difficulties for candidates with less financial resources, and agreed that the UEC should only defer races in severely flood-affected constituencies.
“In some flood-affected areas, the conditions are really bad on the ground,” she said. “People can’t go and check the voter lists, the commission can’t post voter lists, don’t have appropriate places to open polling stations and don’t have a big enough budget. If they postpone in those kinds of areas, I could accept that.”
Khin Maung Swe, chairman of the National Democratic Front (NDF), said that Tuesday’s meeting was not representative of the opinions of all 92 political parties contesting the election.
“I think it’s not alright to decide whether it should be postponed just with ten parties. They don’t have any position reflect other opinion,” he said.
The NDF was one of the parties attending Tuesday’s discussion. Along with the Arakan National Party and the National Unity Party, NDF expressed the view at the meeting that the decision was Tin Aye’s to make.
Khin Kyi Tha Nwe, a voter returning to Burma to cast a ballot for the first time in her life, was disappointed by the UEC proposal.
The 32-year old Burmese citizen, who has been working as a software developer in Romania, spent 1,200 euros (US$1,367) to buy a return air ticket and requested two weeks leave from her job to travel home in time for the election. She did not want to risk casting a ballot at the Burmese embassy in Italy, as she was concerned her vote would not be counted.
“I have decided to cast my vote inside Burma, to support their equal rights, like people in other countries,” she said. “If they change the date, I have to change the flight date and everything else. It would cause unnecessary hiccups for me.”
Kyaw Hsu Mon, San Yamin Aung and Kyaw Phyo Tha contributed to this report.