Myanmar: Election Commission keen to continue with Elections despite the spread of Pandemic
In view of mounting incidence of Covid 19 Virus (Read Wuhan Virus), many political parties except the Ruling Party NLD have appealed to the Union Election Commission (UEC) to postpone the elections. Their complaint is that the restrictions imposed to curb the Virus had prevented a competitive campaign environment. This is particularly so for the smaller parties who now see that they do not have a level playing field in contesting the elections.
But the Union Election Commission is unmoved. The UEC Spokesman U Myint Naing declared on 19th September that there will be no postponement of elections because of Covid 19. He also indicated that the number of polling booths has been increased from 40 to 50 thousand to allow social distancing. Elections in expected crowded areas are going to be held in two shifts and some senior citizens will be allowed to vote in advance.
Suu Kyi in one of her video conferences informed the people on September 29 that Elections are as important as the Covid 19 outbreak. She added very categorically that Elections are more important because one can overcome the challenge of the Virus after a vaccine is developed.
But there appears to be no immediate prospect of vaccine being found before the election or even before this year end.
In response to Suu Kyi’s statement, U Ko Ko Gyi the leader of the 88 Students’ Movement of the People’s Party had put up a poster in their Head Office saying “People’s Health first- Elections Second.” They had also given up door to door campaigning.
In fact the People’s Party had called for a dialogue with all parties on the feasibility of holding the elections amidst the pandemic and the need to postpone. But there was no response either from the Election Commission or from the NLD.
Except for the NLD most of the political parties would like the elections to be postponed. This would include the Army Proxy USDP and its 22 allied parties, Democratic Party for a New Society, Peoples Pioneer Party and other smaller ones.
As of today 44774 cases have been reported and of these 24920 have recovered. There have been 1095 deaths but deaths are mounting day by day. A steep rise in the incidence of cases has also been noticed. More than half the number is from Yangon township.
There appears to be too many problems in continuing with the elections, but it is presumed that the Government has already weighed in with the other option of postponing the elections and decided not to do it.
The problem areas include
- Face to face campaigning is unlawful in many townships of Yangon, Ayeyarwady, Bogo, Mandalay, Mon and Kachin areas. In other areas people are unwilling to meet the candidates or the supporters for fear of contracting the virus.
- The UEC has decided to cancel the elections entirely in 15 townships and in parts of 41 others including large swathes in ethnic areas based on the security concerns and the recommendation of the Government authorities and the Military.
- Strangely, some selective areas considered “safe” have been excluded while those areas where intense fighting is going on between the Security forces and the Ethnic armed outfits have been included. Paletwa that has seen most rampant fighting recently is included and so is the case of Ann township in Rakhine State. It is suspected that the Army’s proxy- the USDP is very influential in these areas and so the elections have been allowed. The UEC is totally helpless as both the portfolios of Home and Defence are with the Army. When the Commission is told by the Security authorities that they cannot take the responsibility for the safety of the electoral process, they have no option but to cancel it. The Government should make a review openly along with the Army and the Election Officials to ensure that people get their right to vote.
- For example seventy five percent of the Residents of Rakhine State have lost the right to vote in view of the UEC’s decision based on the Army’s recommendation.
- In view of the pandemic, the agencies both internal and external to monitor the election will be handicapped and they cannot vouchsafe for the credibility of the elections as their representatives will not be able to move freely and quickly to check on the election.
But it is noticed that the Election Commission can be tough if it wants to be. It recently did not accept “unsealed advance ballots” of the Army,
In another instance, the Commission announced the dissolution of the United Democratic Party for having received millions of US Dollars from China in violation of the law on political parties. The party had also indulged in money laundering on behalf of UWSA another proxy ethnic armed outfit of China. The Party had fielded the largest number of candidates next to the Ruling Party- the NLD and more than the USDP, another proxy of the Army!
It was also refreshing to see Suu Kyi making a bold statement against the Army in the run up to the election. In a video conference on October 29 she said that the process of transforming a dictatorship into a democracy is not complete and therefore the people should vote for the NLD for a landslide victory as before. She also appealed to the ethnic groups to keep the national interests in mind and not one’s racial interests.
Elections are taking place on 8th November and it will be interesting to see how the people including the Army would react once the results are known.