Analysis

Myanmar’s Losing Party Keeps Pushing Claims of Election Fraud and Seeks to Overturn Outcome

By San Yamin Aung 21 November 2020

YANGON— The push by Myanmar military’s proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) to undermine election results they claim are “unfair” and “full of massive fraud” could result in legal action against the party by the state, legal experts warned.

Over the past two weeks since ballots were cast, the USDP—the main rival of the winning National League for Democracy (NLD)—has lodged more than 800 electoral complaints about  alleged malpractice in different states and regions in the general election, according to the party’s chairman U Than Htay.

U Than Htay said in a video message that mounting legal challenges is the party’s way of pursuing the truth about the “flawed” election and that more complaints will be lodged in the weeks ahead as deadlines approach for political parties to certify election results.

In the Nov. 8 general election, the NLD won 920 seats (82.3 percent) out of 1.117 contested seats in the Union, state and regional legislatures, while the USDP only secured only 71 seats or 6.4 percent. That result was far worse than the 10 percent it achieved in 2015’s election.

Disputing its humiliating electoral defeat, the party’s top leaders claimed the election was marred by fraud and the results were unacceptable in spite of the fact that both international and domestic election observers reported no major irregularities at the polls. The claims were made in separate videos messages uploaded on the party’s Facebook page.

The USDP has demanded that the election be rerun with military involvement in order to have “a free, unbiased and disciplined vote.”

The party also called for a probe of the election by an independent commission of inquiry. That call came in a joint statement released on Nov. 11 with the USDP’s 15 allied parties which failed to secure a seat in the election. The joint statement said such a commission must be comprised of representatives from all political parties that took part in the election.

Mandalay-based lawyer U Thein Than Oo, a renowned member of the Myanmar Bar Council, said while making criticism and filing electoral complaints are within political parties’ rights, defamation and threats would breach the laws.

USDP chairman U Than Htay campaigned in Naypyitaw’s Zayarthiri township. (Photo: Thiha Lwin The Irrawaddy)

As an example, he cited the USDP’s accusation that the government’s cash handouts for low-income families struggling because of the COVID-19 outbreak was tantamount to vote-buying by the ruling NLD party. That, he said, was an offense against Article 124 (a) of the Penal Code of attempting to incite disaffection with the government.

The lawyer also questioned the USDP holding press conferences at various locations across the country.

“Indeed, it is enough holding a press conference at the party’s headquarter to raise their objection. But now they are holding press conferences at different places. Will the party’s branches at townships and wards also hold press conferences? If so, it would become like an attempt to destabilize the state. And if that is the case, they could face a lawsuit,” lawyer U Thein Than Oo said.

The USDP’s branches in Naypyitaw, Yangon, Mandalay and Pyawbwe township of Mandalay region held press conferences separately over two weeks accusing the country’s electoral body of electoral mismanagement. They charged that some polling station officers were biased toward the NLD and some school teachers who staff at polling stations were NLD supporters and not neutral. They also characterized the government’s COVID-19 cash assistance as vote buying. Their claims against the school teachers and a disabled voter during the press conference in Yangon region have drawn wide criticisms.

USDP supporters wearing the party’s logo shirts and holding party flags also rallied and held protests in Naypyitaw’s Ottarathiri and Zeyathiri townships, Taungtha township of Mandalay region, and Yangon region. The protestors’ slogans included: “We want the cheating and biased Union Election Commission to be demolished,” “We want the end of the authoritarian party’s government” and “Oppose the government which attempts to retain power unfairly.”

Legal adviser U Khin Maung Myint said holding press conferences in different locations and protests wouldn’t solve electoral disputes and could have the opposite effect if there are any breaches of existing laws such as defamation and COVID-19 restrictions.

USDP supporters protested against the election commission in Yangon’s Insein township. (Photo: Htet Wai/ The Irrawaddy)

“From a legal point of view, after they lodge [electoral] complaints and demand legal solutions on disputes, they need to wait until the final orders are heard,” a legal adviser U Khin Maung Myint said.

“Yet instead of waiting, they are continuing to badmouth the UEC and the winning party based on allegations that have not yet been received. That is defamation and also a direct violation of Article 505 of Penal Code,” he added.

The legal adviser also added that it is also questionable whether the accounts of independent witnesses have been sought or has the USDP made hundreds of electoral complaints based only on its party’s members and supporters.

“If they only listened one-sided voice of their supporters, it will be far from making the results fair [as they claimed],” he added.

The USDP’s Mandalay region secretary U Aung Kyaw Moe, however, said that the party is confident it will be able to overturn the outcome of the election if the UEC decides in favor of the electoral complaints that the party lodged.

The Constitution states the decisions of the UEC are final and conclusive in the cases of election functions, electoral disputes and political party matters.

“We hope we can reverse the election results,” U Aung Kyaw Moe added.

But lawyers don’t agree with him.

“Looking at the current elections results, the margins [between the winning NLD candidates and USDP] are quite large. So, even if the cases are correct, the outcome of the election won’t change,” said legal adviser U Khin Maung Myint.

Lawyer U Thein Than Oo also said that “Looking at the public support for the NLD in the pre-election period and their celebrations of the party’s victory, the result is clear.”

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