NAYPYITAW—Myanmar’s election authority has announced that political parties will continue to be barred from campaigning inside military cantonments ahead of this year’s election, and that —in a departure from previous elections—military personnel and their family members will have to cast their votes outside military barracks.
Union Election Commission (UEC) spokesman U Myint Naing said at the commission’s press conference in Naypyitaw on Thursday that “it is still impossible to campaign inside cantonments” due to security reasons.
He also reaffirmed that polling stations will not be operated inside military barracks in the November election.
In October last year, the UEC submitted draft amendments to electoral bylaws to the Union Parliament. The commission proposed a provision to mandate that polling stations for military personnel and their family members be placed outside the barracks, for them “to be able to cast votes together with civilian voters and to be transparent, where candidates, observers and party representatives can freely enter and monitor.”
Military spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy that electoral campaigning will not be allowed inside barracks due to the constitutional provision that civil servants must be free from party politics.
“All military personnel have the right to vote freely. We will not accept any party soliciting votes from us. There has never been such a tradition,” he said.
U Aung Kyaw Kyaw Oo, a lawmaker with the National League for Democracy (NLD), questioned the decision.
“If we are allowed to campaign, we will have a chance to articulate our party policies and military personnel will also have a chance to ask what they want to know. Now, they don’t have that chance,” he said.
The lawmaker said he had seen a campaign signboard for the Union Solidarity Development Party, widely believed to be a proxy for the Myanmar military, erected in a military cantonment in Yangon during the campaign period before the 2015 election. He claimed the signboard was removed only on the eve of the election, and urged the military to apply its closed-door policy equally to all parties.
Since the 2010 general election, military personnel and their family members in many constituencies have been ordered to vote in military cantonments, under the watch of their superiors. As Myanmar held a general election in 2015 and three by-elections in 2012, 2017 and 2018, monitoring of polling stations inside military compounds and the areas where military personnel live remained limited for security reasons.
Myanmar’s military has an estimated 500,000 personnel. With the addition of family members, over 1 million people out of an estimated 32 million eligible voters in the 2015 election were affiliated with the military.
According to the UEC, nearly 100 political parties are likely to field candidates in November. There are 99 political parties registered with the UEC so far and the commission is still scrutinizing applications of six more parties and has suspended three parties.
Over 37 million people in Myanmar will be eligible to vote in the 2020 general election, according to the UEC. However, the UEC’s list of voters does not include residents of five townships in the Wa Self-Administered Division. Under the previous Union government, the UEC was not able to compile voter lists for these townships and residents were unable to vote in 2015.
The UEC said it is working to hold polls in every constituency across the country in November.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko
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