Election Authorities Prepare for Voting in Myanmar’s Roughest War Zone
By Salai Thant Zin 10 June 2020
PATHEIN, Ayeyarwady Region—The Chin State election commission has said it is prepared to hold voting for the upcoming general election in Paletwa, where the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA) are engaged in ongoing fighting.
“We have prepared to hold the election for all three parliaments in Paletwa,” said Chin State election commission Secretary U Lin Kyaw, referring to the two Union-level houses and the Chin State parliament. “We have arranged polling stations and the necessities for polling. We have made everything ready if the election is to be held in Paletwa.”
The Union Election Commission (UEC) said that it will hold the general election in November as planned despite the COVID-19 health crisis.
There are a total of five parliament seats for Paletwa—two seats each in Chin State parliament and the Upper House, and one seat in the Lower House. The National League for Democracy won all five seats in the 2015 general election.
The AA was established in 2009 in Kachin State’s Laiza with the support of the Kachin Independence Army and in 2014 it announced its long-term plan to return to its homeland of Rakhine State.
It took steps to realize its dream the following year, with troops infiltrating the town of Paletwa, a remote area on the border of Chin and Rakhine states. The move led to the current war with the Myanmar military, also called the Tatmadaw.
In the years after the AA’s initial return, few violent clashes were reported in Paletwa, but in November 2018, the conflict intensified. In February of this year, fierce clashes broke out between the two sides, forcing over 6,000 local residents from Paletwa and Samee towns into camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Skirmishes are still taking place along the Kaladan River and the border with Bangladesh, and over 3,000 ethnic Chin IDPs are still taking shelter at seven camps in urban Paletwa.
“The UEC has asked the views of the Union government’s office and the Defense Ministry. They have not replied yet,” said U Lin Kyaw. “The situation is different day-to-day on the ground, but we have made ready for the election, if the government says the election will be held.”
There were 159 polling stations in Chin State in the 2015 general election, but the state election commission has added 12 more polling stations and prepared 171 for this November.
Chin National League for Democracy (CNLD) chairman Pu No Than Kap has urged the Myanmar military and the AA to cooperate as the local residents will be disenfranchised if fighting continues in Paletwa Township.
“I want the election to be held in Paletwa. People will suffer if the election can’t be held. So, I want to urge the Tatmadaw and the AA to help so that the election can be held and people can vote peacefully,” he said.
The Myanmar military and the AA have clashed violently in the west of Paletwa, which covers the constituencies for three seats— one each in the Lower House, Upper House and state parliament.
Military tensions remain high in the township, and the Myanmar military has blocked boat traffic on the Kalandan River and closed the road to nearby Matupi for security concerns.
“We want the election to be held. Only then will there be representatives who will speak on behalf of us in three parliaments,” said Paletwa resident Ko David. “Without the election, our voices will be lost and so will our voting rights. So, I would like to urge all the organizations involved to work so that the election can be held in Paletwa.”
There are 39 seats in parliament across Chin State’s nine townships—nine seats in the Lower House, 12 in the Upper House and 18 in the state parliament. There are 340,000 eligible voters in Chin State, according to the state election commission. But the number of eligible voters in Paletwa Township is not yet known. There were over 60,000 eligible voters in the township in the 2015 general election.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.
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