RANGOON — Tens of thousands of people are set to lose the chance to vote in Karen State this November, after election officials said that polling stations would not open in some villages due to security concerns.
Kyaw Kyaw Htun, an officer of the Union Election Commission (UEC) in state capital Hpa-an, said that the commission would not operate polling stations in 23 village tracts across Hlaingbwe, Hpa-an and Thandaunggyi townships. He added that the UEC had been unable to compile comprehensive voter lists in Hpa-an and Thandaunggyi, where pockets of territory were under the control of ethnic armed groups.
“Nine polling stations in Hlaingbwe have been withdrawn, although we did plan to open there initially, because of the security concerns there,” adding that the number of eligible voters who will miss the ballot in Hlaingbwe alone was in the order of 7,000 people.
According to the 2014 Census, Hpa-an and Thandaunggyi townships have a combined rural population of nearly 500,000 people. Kyaw Kyaw Htun was unable to say how many voters from either township would be prevented from casting ballots in the Nov. 8 election from, as the UEC did not attempt to compile voter lists in territory held by Karen insurgents.
He said that the commission remained open to setting up polling stations in the excluded areas of Hlaingbwe if there was a favorable change in circumstances.
“We will open [polling stations] if the situation is secure in those places, if voters can cast votes without being subject pressure from anyone, and free and fair election could be held there,” said Kyaw Kyaw Htun.
Kyaw Win Maung, chairman of the UEC’s Karen State branch, said that the decision had been relayed to the commission’s head office.
Meanwhile, election officials in Kachin and Shan states say that some polling stations may not open and the location of others may be changed as a result of ongoing clashes between government troops and ethnic armed groups in the region, which have displaced hundreds of villagers in recent weeks.
Htun Aung Khaing, an electoral officer from the Kachin State UEC branch, said that the commission was seeking updates on the clashes from local UEC offices in affected townships.
“In Mansi Township, the clashes are continuing, so we told the township commission there to update us regularly on the situation,” he said.
Renewed fighting between Burma Army and Kachin Independence Army troops broke out in Mansi on Sept. 18, with over 100 locals forced to flee their homes.
Htun Aung Khaing told The Irrawaddy that while the UEC had yet to decide whether to withdraw any polling stations in Kachin Station, election officials were monitoring the situation closely.
“We are flexible,” he said. “We can open and withdraw polling stations because of the situation there. But we will arrange something for voters if we can’t hold the election in some places because of this situation.”
Than Tin, the UEC commissioner for Loilan district in southern Shan State, said that recent clashes in the area would restrict the activity of some candidates during the campaign.