Election 2020

Myanmar’s Ethnic Parties Slam Decision to Cancel Voting in Strongholds

By Nan Lwin 19 October 2020

YANGON — An alliance of ethnic Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Chin and Mon parties has called on the Union Election Commission (UEC) to reconsider its decision to cancel voting in many townships ahead of the Nov. 8 general election.

The UEC on Friday said nine townships in northern Rakhine State and seven in Shan State are in “no situation to hold a free and fair election”.

The election has also been canceled in 192 village tracts in Kachin State, eight wards and 133 village tracts in Shan State, 15 wards and 137 village tracts in Rakhine State, 53 village tracts in Karen State, 42 village tracts in Bago Region and a village tract in Mon State.

There are eight townships, 23 wards and 105 village tracts that cannot allow voting that took part in the 2015 general election.

Sunday’s statement was made by the Kachin State People’s Party, Mon Unity Party, Chin National League for Democracy (CNLD), Karen National Democratic Party and Kayah State Democratic Party. They have formed an electoral alliance to push for self-determination, to secure equal rights and to form a federal union.

It said the UEC needs to review the cancelation of voting to ensure that ethnic minorities enjoy justice, equality and the right to vote.

The statement said the UEC’s decision would silence numerous members of ethnic minorities, including more than 1.1 million voters in western Rakhine State.

It said many constituencies in Rakhine and Shan states where ethnic parties won seats in 2015 have seen voting canceled.

The parties said the most important feature of an election is “freedom and fairness”.

The statement said the UEC’s decision raises questions about its “transparency, impartiality and integrity” and the independence and fairness of the November election.

CNLD general secretary Salai Ceu Bik Thawng told The Irrawaddy that many of the places where the UEC had canceled voting were ethnic party strongholds.

“There is a big question about whether the UEC is fair,” Salai Ceu Bik Thawng said. “We often talk about how the National League for Democracy [NLD] will need our help to choose the president after the election as we expect to win a majority in our states. It might be a major reason why they treated us this way.”

Many ethnic parties in Karen, Kachin, Kayah, Mon and Chin states have merged after being disappointed by the NLD’s failure to implement key promises, like amending the military-drafted 2008 Constitution, forming a federal union and achieving peace.

Many ethnic parties in 2015 focused on contesting a few seats in their states but had been prepared to contest all constituencies in November for state and Union parliaments and in ethnic affairs ministerial contests in other states and regions.

Ethnic parties were confident of winning majorities on Nov. 8 and have formed coalition boards to help form multiparty administrations to guarantee ethnic rights and push federal powers.

The parties warned that the UEC’s action might force voters into direct action, including violence and armed conflict.

Gumgrawng Awng Hkam, vice-chair of the Kachin State People’s Party, told The Irrawaddy: “They should consider ethnic sentiments. People are trying to get what they want through the parliaments. But they give us no choice. Young people will lose hope in parliamentary politics. There will be more violence and armed conflict, especially in Rakhine State.”

Fighting between government forces and the Arakan Army has intensified in northern Rakhine State. Last week, three NLD candidates were abducted by unidentified armed men while campaigning in Taungup Township in the state.

The UEC is yet to respond to the criticism.

Gumgrawng Awng Hkam said: “The UEC never responds whatever we ask. I don’t really expect anything from it. But I am disappointed and worried.”

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