No postponement, says government . . .
Yesterday, Myanmar reported 41,008 new COVID-19 cases and more than 1,000 deaths. While the country had fared relatively well in the summer, the now skyrocketing number of cases raises questions about the credibility of pushing through the November 8 general election. Aung Sang Suu Kyi, the leader of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, said that the election is more important than the fight against COVID-19. Her stance runs contrary to the advice of the country’s leading public health experts as Myanmar’s health-care system struggles to keep up with the thousands of new cases each day.
Voting cancelled for millions in conflict-ridden areas . . .
The Union Election Commission (UEC), Myanmar’s election supervisory body, announced last week that it would cancel voting in conflict regions, including parts of Shan and Rakhine States, where clashes between the military and ethnic armed groups have intensified. On Monday, the Arakan Army claimed responsibility for the abduction of three candidates from the NLD in Rakhine, a sign of rising anger among this guerrilla force fighting for self-determination. Defending its decision, the UEC said that these areas could not guarantee the conditions to hold free and fair elections. Although expected, and perhaps even necessary due to the level of conflict, the cancellations will affect millions of eligible voters who will lose their opportunity to vote. The millions of already disenfranchised people, who are considered illegal immigrants by the government, notably the Rohingya, further compounds the issue.
Flawed elections, uncertain future . . .
Pandemic-related restrictions on campaigning, such as banning rallies and mass meetings, have disadvantaged smaller political parties. Some even allege that the NLD strategically cancelled the elections in constituencies held by local ethnic parties while allowing them to go ahead in those where the NLD had prevailed in the last election. Some parties have urged the government and the UEC to consider a postponement. Should they proceed as planned, it is almost certain that the elections will result in a victory for the ruling NLD. However, as infection rates and fatalities continue to soar and resentment builds up, not only in conflict-affected areas but also in urban centres, even a victorious NLD will have its democratic credentials questioned. The consequences will outlive the elections themselves, impeding the country’s ability to address fundamental problems of ethnic reconciliation and sustainable economic development.
- The Diplomat: Myanmar’s high-risk election
- International Crisis Group: Majority rules in Myanmar’s second democratic election
- The Washington Post: Myanmar polls body defends cancelled voting in insecure areas