Election 2020: The Week in Review
By San Yamin Aung 19 September 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. This week [between Sept. 12 and Sept. 18], several NLD campaign posters were vandalized and the USDP and NLD made televised campaign speeches and disagreed about a possible election delay.
Party spending on COVID-19 prevention not counted in election expenses
Saturday (Sept. 12)
The Union Election Commission (UEC) said money spent by candidates for the distribution of face masks, face shields, hand sanitizer and gloves to voters for COVID-19 prevention during the campaign trail would not be counted as part of election expenditure.
Since kicking off the election campaign under the shadow of COVID-19, distributing protective items to voters has become a trend among political parties.
Under election laws, the UEC limits campaign spending to 10 million kyats (US$7,600) per candidate.
24 parties led by USDP seek to delay polls
Tuesday (Sept. 15)
Amid an upsurge in COVID-19 cases in the country, the former ruling and military proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and 23 other parties, most of which are pro-military and did not win any seats in the 2015 election, sent an open letter to the UEC seeking to delay the polls. Myanmar has 93 political parties competing in the election.
Since Aug. 16, Myanmar has seen a surge of COVID-19 cases with cases jumping from 374 to 4,299, with the death toll at 61 on Friday morning.
The parties are among the 34 that sought assurance on Aug. 14 — before the resurgence in COVID-19 — from the military chief that action would be taken if the armed forces deem the result to be unfair.
Those parties cited concerns over public health and difficulties in campaigning under COVID-19 restrictions in their request for a postponement.
USDP chairman U Than Htay said in a Facebook video on Wednesday that combating COVID-19 is the most important priority for the country but the election is also vital. He said the USDP would campaign continuously to secure a victory.
NLD’s election posters vandalized
Tuesday (Sept. 15)
At least a dozen election posters for the National League for Democracy (NLD) were vandalized in seven locations around the country in the first few days of the campaign.
Party officials told The Irrawaddy that posters in the Coco Islands in Yangon Region, Maha Aung Myay and Patheingyi townships in Mandalay Region, Zayarthiri Township in Naypyitaw, Monywa Township in Sagaing Region, Hakha Township in Chin State, Paung, Chaungzon and Kyaikmayaw townships in Mon State; and Taungup Township in Rakhine State were targeted. A few more cases elsewhere have since been reported.
The election law’s Article 57 and 58 carries the threat of one year’s imprisonment for interfering with the electoral process.
NLD dismisses calls for election delay
NLD spokesman Dr. Myo Nyunt said it is important to go ahead with the general election as planned, as any delay would lead to political chaos.
Dr. Myo Nyunt told The Irrawaddy that delaying the vote would mean postponing it to an uncertain future.
“Like a second wave, there may also be a third wave. As everyone knows, the government is trying its best to contain COVID-19,” Dr. Myo Nyunt said on Thursday. “We believe it is better to hold the election as planned when the situation is still not out of control.”
Suu Kyi takes on unelected military MPs
Thursday (Sep. 17)
NLD chairwoman Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has asked in a televised campaign speech for unanimous support to form a government.
Under the military-drafted 2008 Constitution, 25 percent of all parliamentary seats are appointed by the military.
She said: “As we are only allowed to contest 75 percent of the seats, we need to win at least 67 percent. To avoid the need for going into these percentage calculations, I would like to appeal to our people simply to vote overwhelmingly for us so that we might win every seat that we are contesting.”
She vowed that the party will continue to work for peace, security guaranteed by the rule of law, the establishment of a democratic federal union and sustainable development.
During her speech, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi compared the challenges the NLD faced after taking office in March 2016 with turning a plot of land that had been neglected for many years into a flourishing garden.
The land was left in an ugly and dangerous state with broken fences, pits and hollows, rocks, weeds and thorns, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said, adding that by putting in effort over the years into cultivating the land, it was now turning into safe and valuable land.
“Let us make the land beautiful and pleasurable with shade-giving trees, fruits, flowers and lush greenery… We would like the people to be confident that ‘never again will our land revert to a wild state’.”
Since Sept. 8, 23 political parties, including NLD, USDP, National Democratic Force, Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, National Unity Party, have broadcast televised campaign addresses. The remaining parties’ speeches will air in the following weeks.
During his broadcast on Sept. 15, the USDP’s U Than Htay promised to improve livelihoods, ensure a more secure future without oppression and that citizens could fully enjoy rights secured by the Constitution.
He pledged that the party will give priority to amending the Constitution, focusing to make practical changes on the appointment of chief ministers of states and regions and power-sharing between the Union and regions and states.
The USDP has opposed pushes by the NLD and ethnic parties for constitutional reform aimed at reducing military power and privileges granted by the charter.
Carter Center launches election monitoring
Friday (Sept. 18)
The US-based Carter Center has launched its observation mission for the November general election, including observing of the electoral administration, campaigning, openness of the political space, participation of women and ethnic minorities, social media and impact of COVID-19 on the electoral process.
The monitoring operation will include a core team of six specialists and 24 long-term observers.
But due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, several specialists are currently working remotely and Myanmar nationals will serve as long-term observers, it said. The center also plans to dispatch a delegation of short-term observers to help assess the voting, counting and tabulation process if travel and security permits are granted.
During the 2015 general election, the center, which was established by former US president Jimmy Carter, deployed three teams of long-term observers who visited 245 polling stations across the nation.
In their own words:
“Contesting in an election is an intrepid undertaking relying on the trust of the people. Because our elections do not meet democratic standards as people have the right to elect only 75 percent of the representatives in all parliaments and the remaining 25 percent are appointed by the commander-in-chief of the military… The NLD needs to overcome that 25 percent barrier to be able to form a government,” NLD chairwoman Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said during a televised campaign speech on Sept. 17.
“I don’t want to urge voters to elect me. I also don’t want to urge voters to vote for my party. Voters will make the decisions about whom they elect. Political parties and candidates are those who will be chosen,” USDP chairman U Than Htay said during a televised campaign speech on Sept. 15.
“Postponing the election when it’s uncertain how the situation might develop in the future will simply result in more problems, including a political crisis on top of the current public health and economic problems,” Dr. Myo Nyunt responded to calls for an election delay.
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