Election 2020: The Week in Review
By San Yamin Aung 3 October 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 (Sept. 26 to Oct. 2), overseas voting began, final voter lists went on display and the controversial head of the “Rose Party” was arrested on a fugitive warrant.
Overseas voting for Nov. 8 poll begins
A total of 45 Myanmar embassies and consulates around the world are preparing to host overseas voting for the Nov. 8 general election. Myanmar citizens living in Singapore kicked things off, beginning advance voting there on Thursday.
On Friday, Myanmar voters in South Korea also started to cast their votes. Advance voting will take place in Thailand—home to 1.15 million registered Myanmar migrants—from Saturday.
Despite the threat of COVID-19, enthusiastic Myanmar voters living abroad are already lining up in long queues at embassies, practicing social distancing and following other prevention guidelines. The embassy polling stations will be open for 10 to 18 days, depending on the country.
Final voter lists on display
Thursday (Oct. 1)
The Union Election Commission (UEC) released final eligible voter lists on Thursday. Voters will have one last chance to fix any inaccuracies and omissions on the lists, which will be on display till Oct. 14. The voter lists can also be checked online.
The rolls have been published online to make it easier for people to check their names and polling stations, especially in those places where stay-at-home orders are in effect. The commission posted its preliminary eligible voter lists from July 25 to Aug. 14. Numerous errors and inaccuracies were reported, ranging from incorrect names and national registration card numbers to the inclusion of deceased people and the omission of whole families.
Here is a website link to check your information online: https://findyourpollingstation.uec.gov.mm
For app download: https://bit.ly/30nUrRV
Controversial ‘Rose Party’ head arrested
Tuesday (Sept. 20)
The controversial chairman of the United Democratic Party (UDP) was detained by police on Monday as part of an investigation into his escape from prison in the late 1990s, while he was serving a 10-year sentence for flouting Myanmar’s business laws.
The arrest in Yangon followed a comment by the President’s Office spokesperson that authorities had launched an investigation in the wake of media reports about Michael Kyaw Myint’s shady background, including accusations that he laundered money for a powerful ethnic armed group and fled his prison sentence.
“He was arrested last night under a police warrant, as he is a fugitive,” spokesperson U Zaw Htay said on Tuesday, adding that existing investigations into his activities were ongoing.
Established by Michael Kyaw Myint (or Michael Hua Hu), the UDP is fielding more than 1,130 candidates in November’s general election—almost as many as the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD). The party is popularly known as the “Rose Party”, after its logo. Read the full story here.
Leader of top Shan Party in shock resignation
Sunday (Sept. 27)
Just weeks before the election, the prominent ethnic Shan politician Khun Htun Oo made a sudden announcement through local media that he had resigned from his position as chairman of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD). He founded the SNLD in 1988 and has led the party since then. The party said it had not made any decision on whether to accept his resignation, and he will remain chairman for the time being.
Since 2018, Khun Htun Oo has frequently talked about retiring from the post of chairman of the SNLD, which is one of the biggest ethnic political parties, but the party re-elected him at its conference in Lashio in June last year. On Sunday he announced his resignation in Yangon-based 7day newspaper.
His decision to step down in the middle of the campaign period ahead of November’s general election has raised eyebrows. Some observers close to the party said that, as Khun Htun Oo has been inactive in party politics for the last two years, his resignation won’t have any effect, while others say he should stay on to lead the party’s electoral campaign. Read the full story here.
People’s Party withdraws election broadcast
Tuesday (Sept. 29)
The People’s Party—established by leaders of the 88 Generation Students group—which took a leading role in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising—on Tuesday canceled its election broadcasts on state-owned media, claiming it faced censorship by authorities.
The UEC has been under strong criticism in recent weeks for restricting freedom of speech. At least four parties said their televised campaign speeches containing content deemed critical of the government and its policies, and of the military, had been censored. Two of the parties boycotted the broadcasts.
The People’s Party said it was told to remove parts of the broadcast stating that large portions of the general public were struggling to make a living, as well as those criticizing the interest rates at government banks and the tax system.
It continued that the UEC’s action breached democratic standards; thus they had decided not to broadcast the censored speech.
Campaigners continue large gatherings despite COVID-19
Parties’ campaigners and supporters, especially of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) and military-backed former ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, declined to cease mass gatherings despite the requests of party leaders, who said large campaign gatherings should be halted in order to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus. The UEC has allowed gatherings and election campaigns from Sept. 8 to Nov. 6, but restricted the activities to a maximum of 50 people and ordered that social distancing and other preventive measures be followed.
Large gatherings at which COVID-19-related restrictions are not properly enforced have drawn widespread criticism. The NLD has also faced criticism after hundreds of supporters gathered in Mandalay. Monywa Aung Shin, secretary of the NLD’s central information committee, said they keep urging supporters to observe physical distancing and wear masks. But he added it is impossible for the party to take action against supporters. The USDP is also continuing mass campaign gatherings, especially in Mandalay Region, in apparent breach of the COVID-19 guidelines, despite calls by party chairman U Than Htay and vice chairman U Khin Yi to delay the election over their concerns for public health.
More election-related stories this week:
The Irrawaddy profiles candidates from four different parties who are competing with each other in the November general election.
The mVoter 2020 app aims to keep voters informed about potential disruption as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.
Will politicians help the public imagine new post-election democratic possibilities in the wake of violence and COVID-19?
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