Key Myanmar Pro-Democracy Parties Refuse to Meet With Regime's Election Body

By The Irrawaddy 20 May 2021

While many of Myanmar’s key pro-democracy political parties have rejected an invitation from the regime’s election body to a meeting on Friday, others have decided to attend it, risking public outrage.

Following the coup, the new, regime-appointed Union Election Commission (UEC) met with representatives of political parties for the first time on Feb. 26. Out of a total of 91 parties, 53 pro-military parties attended the meeting. Almost all of them failed to win seats in the 2020 general election.

Representatives of 53 pro-military parties meet with the regime’s election body on Feb. 26. / The Irrawaddy

Following the meeting, the regime’s election body announced that the results of the 2020 general election—which brought a landslide victory to the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi—were invalid.

The invitation letter to the second meeting asked the parties to meet on May 21 in the capital Naypyitaw, with no stated agenda.

The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), a major ethnic Shan party which won the third-most seats nationwide in last year’s election, said it wouldn’t attend the meeting, as the SNLD’s political stance and objectives are totally at odds with the military council’s actions. The party didn’t attend the previous meeting, either.

“Under the framework of establishing a federal democratic Union, we can continue to work as per the will of the people. But if it deviates from that, it is not convenient to work together with anyone,” SNLD spokesperson U Sai Leik said.

The Arakan National Party (ANP), the largest ethnic Rakhine party, has also decided not to attend the meeting this time, according to U Tun Aung Kyaw, a member of the ANP’s Political Steering Committee.

After working with the regime and taking a seat on the military’s governing council, party chairman U Tha Tun Hla recently told The Irrawaddy that the party no longer thinks cooperating with the council is in the Rakhine people’s interests, as the military regime had ignored ANP demands for a greater role in handling Rakhine affairs. Another Rakhine party, the Arakan League for Democracy, rejected the regime election body’s invitation the first time.

U Aung Moe Zaw, chairman of the Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS), which boycotted the first meeting, said it would also skip the second in order to condemn the regime’s brutality against civilians demanding democracy.

“Youths are being arrested and killed day by day and protests continue to be brutally cracked down upon. In opposition to that, we won’t accept any invitations,” the chairman said during a video interview uploaded on the party’s web page. The long-term democracy activist also called on other political parties to stand together with the people.

The People’s Party, founded by a leader of the 1988 pro-democracy protests, accepted the invitation, however. The controversial decision was made public when some party members including those from the Central Executive Committee announced their resignations. Executive committee members of the party in some regions have also resigned. The members who resigned said they did so as they disagreed with the party’s decision to accept the election body’s invitation.

The decision also drew widespread condemnation from democracy supporters including some who previously supported the party. U Ko Ko Gyi, chairman of the People’s Party, defended the move, telling local media it would allow the party to officially present its political views to the election commission.

The party boycotted the first meeting, saying that as a pro-democracy party that respects the electorate, it wouldn’t accept any invitations until election disputes were solved according to the law.

U Ko Ko Gyi, chairman of the People’s Party. / The Irrawaddy

The Arakan Front Party (AFP) led by Rakhine politician Dr. Aye Maung, who was imprisoned under the NLD-led government and released by the regime a few days after the coup, will also attend the meeting.

Dr. Aye Maung said he had registered to attend the meeting personally on Friday.

“As a registered party, we are invited by the UEC. If there is a reason to go, we will. And if there is any inconvenience, we won’t attend. For us, we will attend as it is convenient for us. It doesn’t matter if it’s the military council or the NLD. We are not taking sides,” he said.

The regime’s election body spokesman said at a recent press conference that it invited all registered parties including the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) and planned to discuss changing the country’s electoral system to a proportional representation system.

Since the coup, the regime has arrested not less than 200 members of the NLD including its chairwoman Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, vice chairs U Win Myint and Dr. Zaw Myint Maung, and other senior leaders, elected lawmakers and members in states and regional branches. They remain in detention.

The regime said it will hold a new election, claiming last year’s vote was marred by fraud.

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