Election 2020

Voting Canceled in Parts of Paletwa in Myanmar’s Conflict-Torn West

By Nyein Nyein 28 October 2020

Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC) on Tuesday added most of Paletwa, the conflict-torn township in southern Chin State, to the list of areas where voting in November’s election has been canceled. The move followed complaints that the commission’s criteria for canceling voting for security reasons lacked consistency across the country.

Paletwa, which lies just inside Chin’s boundary with Rakhine State in western Myanmar, has been a battleground between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) since early 2015, when the AA began using it as a transit area for its push to set up a base in Rakhine State.

In a follow-up to its initial announcement of no-vote areas earlier this month, the commission said voting would not be held in 94 village tracts in Paletwa.

At the same time, it reversed its earlier cancellation of voting in three village tracts in Rakhine’s Kyaukphyu Township; four village tracts in Rakhine’s Ann Township; one village tract each in Shan State’s Lashio and Kunlong townships; and a ward in Shan’s Muse Township.

On Oct. 16, the UEC announced that voting would not be held in 15 whole townships and parts of 41 townships in Rakhine, Shan, Kachin, Karen and Mon states and Bago Region—but spared Paletwa. The commission said last week that it would reconsider the security situation in Paletwa and Ann townships.

Of Paletwa Township’s more than 60,000 eligible voters, some 10,000 in four wards in downtown Paletwa, three wards in Samee town and Shin Let Wa village tract will still be able to participate in the election, according to Salai Isaac Khen, the head of the NLD’s 2020 election campaign and a former Chin State minister for municipal works, electricity and industry.

“Many of the 94 village tracts where voting was canceled are free of fighting and can hold the election, but it has been learned that the UEC has adjusted its decision based on the army’s security concerns,” Salai Isaac Khen wrote on his Facebook page.

Salai Isaac Khen posted that the Chin State government and the Paletwa Township election sub-commission had assessed the security situation and concluded that 80 of the township’s 102 village tracts and wards can hold voting. Therefore, on Sept. 29, the state government recommended that the Union government allow voting to proceed in those village tracts and wards.

“I feel really sorry for voters whose rights are lost and I don’t know what to say,” he wrote on his Facebook page on Tuesday night.

Nationwide, the UEC’s move to cancel voting in certain areas has caused some 1.5 million out of 38 million eligible voters to lose their right to vote in a total of 52 constituencies, including seven Upper House constituencies in Rakhine State, 15 Lower House constituencies in Rakhine and Shan states, and 30 state/regional seats in all six ethnic areas.

Of these, more than 1.2 million are residents of Rakhine State.

On Nov. 8, Myanmar voters will go to the polls in 1,119 out of 1,171 constituencies across the Union and state and regional parliaments. (Not included in these 1,171 constituencies are a fixed number of seats—25 percent of the total—that the parliaments reserve for military appointees. More than 5,800 candidates from 91 parties, as well as independents, will take part. The NLD is fielding the most candidates, followed by the military-proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party.

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