Election 2020

Myanmar Military’s Criticism of Election Commission Worries Local Observers, Foreign Diplomats

By Htet Naing Zaw 4 November 2020

NAYPYITAW—Local political observers say the Myanmar military’s warning that the civilian government led by the National League for Democracy (NLD) will be responsible for any irregularities committed by the election commission is a cause for concern for the country’s politics.

In two statements released on Monday, the military said the Union Election Commission (UEC) had shown many weaknesses and deficiencies despite the fact that it had more than four years to prepare for the upcoming election. Those weaknesses could seriously affect the image of the election, the military said.

The statement warns that, “The government has the complete responsibility for all the intentional and unintentional mistakes of the commission at its different levels.”

Coming just a few days prior to the election, the statements have prompted concerns and questions among political observers and diplomats in Yangon.

Political observer and writer U Than Soe Naing said the military’s statements reflect the political forces it supports in the Nov. 8 election.

“The Constitution grants the Tatmadaw [Myanmar’s military] a national political leadership role. I feel sad to see that it is acting hand in glove with the Union Solidarity and Development Party [USDP],” he said.

The statement should not be read as a threat by the Tatmadaw to seize power, however, U Than Soe Naing assessed. The Tatmadaw does not need to seize power because it controls three important ministries and 25 percent of the seats in Parliament, he said.

“They can dissolve Parliament anytime. They can call for a change to the government anytime. But you can see that the NLD government has continuously defended the political leadership role of the Tatmadaw both inside and outside the country in consideration of national reconciliation,” U Than Soe Naing said.

Former lawmaker for Hsipaw Township U Ye Htun said the election results could shape the political landscape of the country.

“We will have to wait and see until the election results are out. If the NLD wins the election, and there are irregularities and rigging, there could be disturbances,” he said.

The Tatmadaw’s statements followed the UEC’s cancellation of voting in certain townships after receiving guidance from the military about the poor security situation in those constituencies. The Tatmadaw responded that the government failed to consider all of its suggestions.

Lower House candidate Sai Tun Aye of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) viewed the statements as an intervention.

“What they said is that while the commission is an independent body, it was formed by the president. But according to the Constitution, it has to be formed by the president. So in effect they are blaming the Constitution that they themselves drafted,” Sai Tun Aye said.

“The Tatmadaw only has the right to perform military issues independently. So, we can assume that it is intervening politically,” he said.

The statements have caused concerns in diplomatic circles—especially among diplomats from Asian countries and some Western nations that have good diplomatic ties with Myanmar—in Yangon about the pre-election landscape. A diplomat from a Western country who did not want to be named said he was worried about the upcoming election.

Ethnic Rakhine lawmaker Daw Htoot May suggested it goes against democratic norms for the Tatmadaw to express such concerns and to question the election body.

“If the UEC has shortcomings, they should only be pointed out by political parties and candidates,” Daw Htoot May said.

Political analyst Dr. Yan Myo Thein questioned whether the Tatmadaw has the legal right to point out the faults of the UEC.

“Major stakeholders have failed to build understanding and trust through frank negotiations in the democratization of our country. I am concerned that such weaknesses will lead to turbulence after the 2020 poll,” he said.

The Irrawaddy was unable to contact the Tatmadaw’s True News Information Team for comment about its statement.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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