NAYPYITAW—Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said military personnel will be able to vote freely in the coming election this November.
“What we can say is we don’t instruct military personnel about which party to vote for and which party not to vote for. There is no such restriction. They have the right to vote freely according to their wishes,” said the military spokesman at a press conference in Naypyitaw on Tuesday.
Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun added that the military, known as the Tatmadaw, is not affiliated with any political party and has no policy about its relations with any particular party.
“It is important that the election is free and fair and that all the people can cast a vote. The Tatmadaw will help wherever it can to ensure that,” he said.
In a departure from previous elections, military personnel and their family members will cast their votes outside military barracks in the November election, rather than at polling stations inside military cantonments.
Political parties will continue to be barred from campaigning inside military cantonments, said Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun, as different ideological beliefs, including communism, once caused factions within the Tatmadaw in Myanmar’s post-independence period and resulted in mutiny.
“Those communist factions went underground. So, political parties will not be allowed to campaign inside military cantonments,” said the spokesman.
U Aung Kyaw Kyaw, a Lower House lawmaker with the National League for Democracy (NLD), recently said that the NLD was barred from campaigning inside military cantonments in the 2015 general election but the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) campaigned in some cantonments. The USDP is led by ex-generals from the Tatmadaw and is widely viewed as the proxy of the Myanmar military.
“We received maximum five-to-six votes per polling station inside military barracks. All the other votes were won by the USDP. As they have to cast their votes outside military barracks in the coming election, we may win more votes. But I doubt they will be allowed to vote freely,” he said. “The USDP was born out of the Tatmadaw, so the party will still win the majority of votes from the Myanmar military.”
USDP spokesman Dr. Nanda Hla Myint has disputed the NLD lawmaker’s claim. He pointed out that his party lost in 2015 in Pyin Oo Lwin, a Mandalay Region township with the largest number of military universities in Myanmar, because it did not win votes from military personnel.
“Our target is to try to win the vote of every eligible voter. We won’t ask them to vote for us because they are military personnel,” he said.
He added, however, that there is a need to consider national security because putting the polling stations outside of barracks will allow international observers to know the size of Myanmar’s battalions.
“It does not matter whether polling stations are inside or outside military barracks. This will not impact the voting of military personnel. When polling stations were inside barracks in previous elections, there were votes from military personnel in favor of the NLD. There were advanced votes in favor of both the NLD and the USDP,” he said.
Regarding the USDP’s policy on the Tatmadaw, he said the party believes it is necessary to cooperate with the Tatmadaw for the peace and stability of the country, and to build trust and work in harmony with the Myanmar military on state-building.
Senior Tatmadaw officers resigned from the military and ran on the USDP ticket in 2010 and 2015 general elections. When asked if senior military officers will do the same in the upcoming election, Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun replied that time will tell.
According to a list issued by the Union Election Commission (UEC) in March, there will be 37 million eligible voters in the 2020 election, excluding military personnel and their family members. 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.
For this year’s election, 97 parties have registered with the UEC, with 79 parties operating up to the Union level, 18 parties operating only at the local level and three parties suspended.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.
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