Election 2020

Election 2020: The Week in Review 

By San Yamin Aung 7 November 2020

YANGON— ‘Election 2020: The Week in Review’ offers a summary of the most important developments related to the 2020 election during the past week — the stories readers should not miss if they want to understand the electoral landscape. In the final few days before the general election, relations between the military and government have grown increasingly tense, the military chief’s warnings to the government have raised concerns of post-election chaos, and explosions and bomb alerts occurred in several places.

Relations between the government, military continue to sour

Relations between the civilian government led by the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the military continued to sour throughout the week, with the military wading into election matters starting early in the week. A statement issued Monday by the Office of the Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services, military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s office, criticized the government for the Union Election Commission (UEC)’s mishandling of preparations for Sunday’s general election, as the commission is formed by the government. 

Following the statement, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing told a local media outlet that he doubted the upcoming election will be free and fair, citing what he said were missteps by the UEC. 

The Myanmar President’s Office responded on Wednesday, saying the military’s remarks over the election were inciting instability and causing public concern, while violating the law and the 2008 Constitution. It also said the UEC was an independent body and there is no law that dictates the body has to answer to the government. In a lengthy response on Thursday, the military rejected the President’s Office’s comments, stating the government was ignoring its responsibility for the actions of the UEC and warning President U Win Myint with possible impeachment if he fails to uphold his constitutional responsibilities.  

Military chief’s warnings raise concerns of post-election chaos

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, attends a peace conference in Naypyitaw, the capital of Myanmar, in 2017. / The Irrawaddy

Military chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing’s warnings to the UEC and the government over their handling of the Sunday vote have raised concern and unease among politicians, observers and diplomats. The senior general appears to be sending a message that if the NLD wins again in the election, the military will not sit idly by. Some observers fear the country is headed for a period of post-election chaos and violence that will give the military a pretext to step in and take control, and questioned whether the senior general overstepped the bounds of his authority.

Snr-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing in 2017 / Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy

Explosion rocks Bago Region’s election sub-commission office

Friday (Nov. 6)

Bago Region’s election sub-commission office is damaged after being attacked with explosives. / Zin Lin Htet / The Irrawaddy

An explosion rocked the compound of Bago Region’s election sub-commission office at around 3 p.m. on Friday, just two days ahead of Myanmar’s general election. The Irrawaddy’s correspondent at the scene said no one was injured in the blast, but locals remained fearful.

There were also bomb alerts near a toll gate on the Mandalay-Pyin Oo Lwin highway on the night of Oct. 28, in Mandalay Region’s ChanayetharzanTownship on the evening of Nov. 4 and Monywa Township of Sagaing Region on the night of Nov. 3. The first was unexploded and the latter two alerts turned out to be hoaxes, according to local authorities.

Legal action taken against three for election fraud in advance voting

A voter casts his advance ballot papers on Oct. 29 in Yangon. / Htet Wai / The Irrawaddy

A representative of a Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) election candidate, a middle school teacher and another man face legal action over alleged electoral fraud during advance voting. The UEC said a representative of USDP candidate provided a fake stamp to replace a faulty UEC-approved stamp used by voters to mark their ballots at a polling station in Yangon Region’s Hlegu Township. The middle school teacher cast advance ballots two times in Ayeyarwady Region. She allegedly cast the ballots in Sipwarchaung Village-tract on Oct. 30 and in Meitaline Village-tract on Oct. 31. Additionally, a man used a fake stamp instead of using the actual one while casting his advance vote in Pathein Township of  Region. All three have been charged under Article 59 of the election law, which bans voting more than once in an election, intentionally destroying, or rendering illegible, election materials, and other election offenses. Violators of Article 59 face one year’s imprisonment or a fine, or both.

Long silence from abducted NLD candidates prompts fears

The three NLD candidates who were abducted in Rakhine State’s Taungup Township on Oct. 14: (from left) Daw Ni Ni May Myint, Daw Chit Chit Chaw and U Min Aung.

The NLD and families of the three candidates abducted by the Arakan Army (AA) fear for the lives of the trio, as they have not received any information about them. The general election in which the trio were candidates will be held on Sunday. The AA said in a statement on Oct. 19 that it would not release the candidates until the government freed all ethnic politicians and civilians arrested for affiliation with the AA and student protesters detained for demanding peace. Describing the NLD candidates as “crooked” and as “Burmese puppets and traitors” in the statement, the AA said the three would be detained for further interrogation and their release would come at the AA’s discretion. It has been 24 days since the three candidates were abducted during campaigning. 

Over-60s vote early in large numbers ahead of Sunday’s election

Myanmar has seen high early voter turnout among its older citizens in Yangon, Mandalay and Bago regions and Kachin State, with more than half of registered over-60s casting advance ballots. On Friday, former military dictator U Than Shwe, former President U Thein Sein, who led the previous USDP government, and their families cast advance ballots at their residences in Naypyitaw.

In their own words:

“In 2015 I said that the UEC had the final say on the election results and we would accept it. This time it seems that we have to be very cautious [with the election results, as there are doubts it will be free and fair]” — Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, speaking to local media outlet Popular News on Tuesday.

“Now we are facing things that could spark our anger. They are just intentionally inciting the public’s righteous anger. Don’t let yourself to be trapped into this.” — NLD chairwoman Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, in a public message posted on her Facebook account.

“The Tatmadaw’s latest statement, which is based on groundless allegations by some political parties and individuals, is unhelpful to efforts to hold a free and fair election, but instead instigates concerns and instability.” — Government spokesman U Zaw Htay, addressing a press briefing in Naypyitaw on Wednesday.

More election-related stories:

The main opposition party, the USDP, has spent more than $18,000 on Facebook ads in the past three months to get its message out in the run-up to the Nov. 8 election.

As Myanmar prepares to vote, The Irrawaddy asks international observers who have been following the country’s political issues for years for their views on the Nov. 8 election.

Merged ethnic parties may be the wild card in Shan as the election nears, but the NLD continues to dominate with urban voters.

The decision to cancel voting for more than half of Rakhine State’s residents will drive people to support the Army, say politicians and analysts.

Watching elderly voters solemnly cast their advance ballots offers a lesson in the larger significance of Myanmar’s general election.

With an NLD win likely, attention in Myanmar is turning to a number of key government and military appointments due in the post-election period.