Specials

Updated Timeline: Tracing Military’s Interference in Myanmar Election

By San Yamin Aung 20 January 2021

YANGON— Even before Myanmar’s voters went to the polls in November’s general election, the country’s powerful military began flexing its political muscles, criticizing the government for the electoral body’s handling of preparations for the polls and raising doubts over whether the election was free and fair.

Its threats and warnings in the run-up to the election even prompted concerns over the possible threat of a coup. At that time, many were relieved after the military chief’s Senior General Min Aung Hlaing vowed to respect the people’s will on election day.

For the record, Myanmar held its general election on Nov. 8 amid surging cases of COVID-19. Despite criticism of the election body, 71.75 percent of eligible voters [nearly 27 millions of 37 million voters flocked to polling stations and a clear majority of them chose the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD).

Following another landslide defeat at the hands of the NLD, the military proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) claimed that the election was marred by massive fraud. The party also filed more than a thousand electoral complaints with the police and election sub-commission.

After its proxy party cried foul over the vote, the military resumed its interference and launched an investigation into the election. As the date grows near when the newly-elected parliament convenes and new government takes office, the military and its proxy party have pressed ahead with attempts to discredit the NLD’s victory.

Here’s a timeline of the military’s interference over the election, tracing activity from the pre-election period through its ongoing assertions of fraud as recently as this week.

“I am brave enough to do anything”: Military Chief

August 14, 2020

Myanmar military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. / Htet Naing Zaw/ The Irrawaddy

During the meeting with 34 pro-military parties, including the USDP, in the run-up to the election in which the parties sought assurances from the military chief that they could count on his help if the voting turned unfair, Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said there is nothing that he wouldn’t dare to do for the country.

“I am brave enough to do anything. Anything that could have a negative impact on the country, the people and the future of the military [is my concern]. I’m following everything,” Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said in the meeting. His choice of words drew concerns that he might be threatening a coup.

First Pre-Vote Attack

Nov. 2, 2020

Tatmadaw spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun at a press conference on June 23. / Thiha Lwin / The Irrawaddy

Six days prior to the election, the military issued a statement about the voting, overstepping its authority by asserting that the Union Election Commission (UEC) was mishandling preparations. The statement issued by the office of the Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services cast doubt on the ability of the UEC, formed by the government, to hold a free and fair election.

“Weakness and deficiencies which were never seen in the previous elections are appearing now. They can have adverse impacts on the image of the election,” the military said, warning that the government must take responsibility for any mistakes committed by the election commission which it said is legally responsible for the commission’s actions.

Military Chief Questions the Credibility of the Vote

Nov. 3, 2020

Myanmar military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and senior military officers / Htet Wai / The Irrawaddy

Following the statement on Nov. 2, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing told a local media outlet that he was dismayed by the UEC’s mishandling of the situation, saying he had expected a free and fair election.

“In 2015 I said that the UEC had the final say on the election results and we would accept it. This time it seems that we have to be very cautious. I don’t want it to happen,” he said.

The spokesperson for the President’s Office responded on Nov. 4 that army chief’s election remarks violate the law and the Constitution, making reference to Article 26(a) of the Constitution which states that civil servants, including the military and police, must be free from party politics.

The President’s Office also slammed the military’s statement on the election as “based on groundless allegations by some political parties and individual and unhelpful to efforts to hold a free and fair election but instead instigates concerns and instability.”

Military Warns President of Impeachment

Nov. 5, 2020

President U Win Myint at the opening ceremony of an equestrian statue of Gen. Aung San in Naypyitaw. / Thiha Lwin / The Irrawaddy

The military rejected the President’s Office’s comments in a lengthy response saying the government was ignoring its responsibility for the actions of the UEC. It went on to say that government officials took oaths under the Constitution to honestly carry out their duties to the best of their abilities.

“It should be noted that the Constitution [provides for] the impeachment of the President and Vice President if he is deemed disqualified or not performing his responsibilities,” it added. The military also attempted to justify its interference by saying its involvement in the country’s “national politics” was in accordance with the Constitution, which labels the military as its guardian.

Military Chief Agrees to Respect Election Result

Nov. 8, 2020

Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing cast his ballots in Naypyitaw’s Zabuthiri Township on Sunday. / Thiha Lwin / The Irrawaddy

 

After week of tension with government over the election that led to concerns over post-election chaos and violence, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, however, promised on the election day that he will accept the outcome of the voting.

“I will accept an election result that reflects the people’s will,” Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing told reporters on Nov. 8, after casting his ballot in Naypyitaw’s Zabuthiri Township.

Military Launches Review of Election Process

Nov. 30, 2020

Military personnel and their families queue to cast ballots at a polling station outside their bases in Mandalay. / Zaw Zaw / The Irrawaddy

The military (or Tatmadaw) announced that it would review the electoral process to determine whether it was conducted in accordance with the law after learning of election-related disputes across the country. The announcement came a few days after its proxy, the USDP, cried foul over the election and complained that its calls for a probe of the election and the UEC had fallen on deaf ears.

The military called on the UEC to instruct the respective election sub-commissions to provide the Tatmadaw with copies of election-related documents to facilitate its review, saying its goal was “to recognize a free and fair election without suspicion.” Depending on the findings of its review, voters from the constituencies in question will file objections to any electoral irregularities discovered, the Tatmadaw said.

The Tatmadaw True News Information Team however said at that time that the military is reviewing the balloting “in 218 townships where military personnel and their family member cast votes.” That seemed to be an attempt to persuade critics that the Tatmadaw did not intend to interfere in the whole entire process, but merely wanted to ensure that no irregularities occurred in polling stations where military voters voted. That effort at “spin” was itself controversial.  And, in the event, the Tatmadaw’s examination of voter lists didn’t stop with 218 townships and extended to other townships with no military voters.

Public Spat with UEC

Dec. 10, 2020

Union Election Commission Chairman U Hla Thein speaks to political parties at a meeting on June 27 in Yangon. / Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy

The UEC rejected as “unlawful” the military’s call for the agency to instruct its sub-commissions to provide copies of election-related documents to facilitate the military’s review of the Nov. 8 vote.

The military has also cited provisions of the Evidence Act in its request to the UEC that the necessary directives be given to election sub-commissions allowing them to copy the public documents.

The UEC said on Dec. 7 that according to the country’s election laws, the election tribunal should apply provisions of the Evidence Act “only when inspections are made [following] electoral complaints.” Criticizing the UEC decision, the Tatmadaw True News Information Team said on Dec. 10 that instead of rejecting their request, the UEC should work towards removing all the doubts through transparency, maintaining that its attempt to seize election-related documents was legal.

Making Series of Fraud Claims

Dec. 23, 2020

Polling officials count votes at a voting station in Mandalay Region on Nov. 8, 2020. / Zaw Zaw / The Irrawaddy

Regardless of the UEC rejection to provide copies of election-related documents including voter lists, the military continued rechecking the voter lists across the country and on Dec. 23 released its findings of the “irregularities” starting with four townships where its proxy party suffered heavy defeats.

In less than a month, the military scrutinized voter lists of 314 townships in all states and regions and released the findings. It publicly claimed to have found more than 7. 6 million voter list irregularities that could have led to opportunities to vote “more than once” and “voting malpractice” in those townships.

Election sub-commissioners rejected the accusations as “exaggerated” and “absurd” and questioned the military source for the voter lists as the UEC had not provided them. The military spokesperson claimed that they had not gathered illegal information online during their review.

Unfair and Dishonest Practices Were Found in Vote: Military Chief Alleges

Jan. 8, 2021

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing speaks to senior officer instructors, senior officer trainees from Command and General Staff College in Kalaw Station via video conferencing. / Senior General Min Aung Hlaing/ Website

The military chief Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing made fraud claims about the Nov. 8 general election, making the allegation of vote rigging personally in the post-election period and supporting the USDP’s claims of mass electoral frauds.

“In conducting an assessment after the election, unfair and dishonest practices were found,” the commander-in-chief told the Command and General Staff College in Kalaw via video conferencing.

He added that the military is trying to point out these mistakes because they tarnish the country’s image.

Call for Special Parliament Session

Jan. 11, 2021

Military appointees in Parliament / Htet Naing Zaw / he Irrawaddy

Few days after the senior general’s comments on alleged vote rigging, the military appointees in the Parliament and its proxy party attempted to take their claims to the Parliament.

A total of 203 lawmakers, including 160 unelected military appointees, 36 Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) lawmakers, four Arakan National Party members, two independents and one National United Democratic Party member submitted a proposal calling Speaker T Khun Myat to convene a special session to resolve electoral fraud claims before the new parliament sits on Feb. 1.

The speaker rejected the proposal on Jan. 12, saying the military and USDP attempt to take electoral fraud claims to Parliament is “not relevant.” He said election disputes are not resolved in Parliament as the Constitution grants the UEC the final decision. He added that alleged malpractices filed with the election sub-commissions will be resolved by the UEC and the process is still taking place.

Military Chief Complains of Alleged Voter Fraud to the Chinese Minister

Jan. 12, 2021

Myanmar military chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meet in Naypyitaw on Tuesday. / Tatmadaw Information Team

The military chief raised electoral fraud claims at his meeting with visiting Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councilor Wang Yi during a discussion that was supposed to be devoted to issues of bilateral interest, including capacity building for Myanmar’s armed forces.

The senior general shared the military’s “findings” in its examination of the voter lists, saying it had uncovered mistakes and inaccuracies that could have led to opportunities to vote “more than once” and “voting malpractice.” He claimed the military embarked on the task to ensure that the country’s democracy would not be harmed. He also added the military would continue its effort in accordance with regulations and laws. It is not known how Wang responded to the claims.

Military Condemns Speaker’s Refusal to Probe Election Fraud Claims

Jan. 14, 2021

Union Parliament Speaker U T Khun Myat.

Speaker T Khun Myat has come under fire from the military for refusing its request to hold a special parliamentary session to examine the electoral fraud charges.

The Tatmadaw has questioned that whether the rejection of its call for a special parliamentary session before the newly elected assembly convenes is constitutional while insisting that their call for the special session was constitutional.

In reference to the former junta’s national convention to draft the Constitution, it said parliamentarians have the right to call the House Speaker to convene a special session and the Speaker has the constitutional duty to convene a session if a quarter of lawmakers make the request.

Lawyers, however, have backed the Speaker’s decision, saying was in line with the Parliament’s law and by-law and constitutional.

Military Demands Proof November Election Was Fair

Jan. 20, 2021

National League for Democracy supporters in Yangon celebrate the party’s electoral victory on Nov. 10. / The Irrawaddy

The military has called on either the government, Union Election Commission (UEC) or outgoing parliamentarians to prove the November general election was free and fair so it can accept the results.

Calling the situation a “political dilemma” in which the military, its proxy party and a few allied parties alleged election fraud, the military declared in a statement that, the government, UEC or parliament should find a way to overcome the political dilemma in the interests of the state and the people.

“In the presence of vote-rigging, the will of the people cannot be reflected”, the military stated. “If the election can be proved free, fair and transparent, it will reflect the true wishes of the people and the Tatmadaw [military] and certain political parties will accept the results,” it continued.

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