Election 2020

Rejected Candidate in Myanmar’s Rakhine State Says He’s Been Bullied off the Ballot

By Min Aung Khine 3 September 2020

SITTWE, Rakhine State—An Arakan National Party (ANP) official says election authorities are bending the rules to keep him off the November ballot.

The Union Election Commission (UEC) removed U Pho San from the ANP’s candidate list, citing his son’s role with the Arakan Army (AA), which the government has designated as a terrorist organization.

“I am an ANP Central Executive Committee [CEC] member and currently a lawmaker representing Kyaukphyu,” U Pho San told The Irrawaddy. “It is just an excuse for them to say that I violated the law. I didn’t. If I violated the law, then there should be an investigation. If I violated the law, legal action can be taken against me. I am willing to take the appropriate punishment if that’s the case. But right now, I feel like I have been bullied by the UEC’s bending of the rules.”

U Pho San’s candidacy was initially approved by the Kyaukphyu District Election Sub-commission on Aug. 14. But the UEC later ruled that he was in violation of the parliamentary election law.

Article 10(n) of the law states that a person is not eligible to stand for election if there is credible evidence that they have had contact with any of the following: an organization declared an unlawful association under any existing law; organizations or persons designated by the state to have committed terrorist acts; or insurgent organizations in armed revolt against the state, or their members.

The initial approval of his candidacy came after none of the seven other rival candidates raised any objections.

U Pho San’s son, Aung Myit Soe, attended the Defense Services Academy starting in 2002 as part of Intake No. 47, and was serving as a major at No. 3 Armored Battalion Headquarters in Meiktila Township, Mandalay Region when he left his post to join the AA in May of 2018.

Secretary of Kyaukphyu District Election Sub-commission U Htay Aung Khaing said the commission had no choice but to reject the candidacy after being informed by the UEC that it was in violation of the law.

“We were asked to take necessary actions, and we have to function in line with parliamentary election law,” he told The Irrawaddy. “How can we know if there is contact between U Pho San and his son in the AA? We can’t and the UEC can’t. That’s a matter for the Home Affairs Ministry,” he told The Irrawaddy.

U Pho San attempted to appeal the rejection of his candidacy but ran into a series of hurdles.

He was informed of the decision on Aug. 22, when the Kyaukphyu District Election Sub-commission summoned him and told him that the Home Affairs Ministry had found that his son had joined the AA.

“I denied that I violated the election law. When I said I would submit an appeal to the state election sub-commission, district election sub-commission officials said the instruction came from the UEC and had nothing to do with state and district commissions. So, I submitted an appeal to the UEC,” he told The Irrawaddy.

He did that on Aug. 24, he said. But the UEC denied the appeal, saying that U Pho San should have first submitted an appeal to the state election commission.

“The district election sub-commission only told me verbally [that I was disqualified]. I denied [the allegation]. When I said I would submit an appeal to the state election sub-commission, they said the order came directly from the UEC. Now, the UEC says the district election sub-commission’s decision will be upheld because I failed to appeal to the state election sub-commission. But then the district election sub-commission did not give me the rejection letter. How can I submit the appeal without the rejection letter?” he said.

Rejecting U Pho San, who is a CEC member of an official political party and current lawmaker, based only on the fact that his son has joined the AA amounts to a slap in the face not only for U Poe San, but also for the ANP, said the party’s general secretary, U Khaing Pyi Soe.

The ANP’s leader, lawyer Daw Aye Nu Sein, also rejected the UEC’s argument.

“He is a sitting lawmaker, and his son has been gone for a long time. The law says credible evidence must be submitted about having contact with unlawful associations and insurgent organizations. Can the simple fact that a son has joined the AA be called strong evidence?” she asked.

She also criticized the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, accusing it of repressing the opposition even though the NLD itself had endured repression during military rule.

She urged the NLD to have sympathy, reminding the ruling party of the era when an entire family could not even run a roadside stall if there was a single NLD member in the family.

U Pho San’s elder son is still serving as a sergeant in Light Infantry Battalion 270 of the Myanmar military based in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State. If his candidacy is in violation of the law, U Pho San said, his elder son is also in violation and should be released from military service.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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