Myanmar’s election chief gave a verbal assurance on Wednesday that the country’s general elections in November will be free and fair, while one ethnic minority party called on the government to delay the vote because of damage caused by heavy flooding.
“It will be free and fair; otherwise, I wouldn’t hold the elections,” said Tin Aye, chairman of the Union Election Commission (UEC), the body responsible for the polls in the country’s upcoming Nov. 8 general elections when parliamentary representatives and a new president will be selected.
Western countries and the United Nations believed Myanmar’s last general elections in which the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) declared victory 2010 were rife with fraud. The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) had boycotted the elections.
“It will mostly depend on those who run the process on the ground,” Tin Aye said. “I will take action against them. … There might be some bad apple employees at the polling stations. In some cases, we might have to solve the problem peacefully, while for others, there may be legal action taken. All these are conditional problems, and free and fair elections will be judged by them.”
The elections will largely been seen as an indication of where Myanmar is headed in its transformation from an authoritarian nation to a democratic one.
So far, nearly 6,200 candidates have filed applications to run in the elections, and 88 have been rejected by UEC subcommissions for failing to meet certain eligibility criteria, he said.
Tin Aye assured all political parties, civil society groups and media that they would be able to monitor the elections and directed commission employees of all ranks not to side with any particular group or be afraid of pressure.
Four international organizations and three local groups have applied for permission to monitor the polls, he said.
Chin party wants voting delay
Meanwhile, ethnic Chin party leaders have called on the UEC to delay the elections for at least one month because people nationwide are still suffering from the recent floods which wiped out infrastructure and homes.
Flooding and landslides caused by annual monsoon rains and the tail end of Cyclone Komen in July affected nearly 1.3 million people in Myanmar, killing more than 100 of them.
The government had declared Chin and Rakhine states, and Magwe and Sagaing divisions as disaster zones on July 31.
“[We want] to delay the elections for at least one month because of the natural disaster,” said Pu Zozam, chairman of the Chin National Democratic Party during a press conference on Friday held by the 23-member Nationalities Brotherhood Federation political party alliance. NBF candidates will stand in more than 700 constituencies in the Nov. 8 elections.
“In our Chin state, people are experiencing trauma, and they are even scared of seeing politicians,” he said. “Voting is far from their thoughts.”
Some political leaders have expressed concern about the government’s flood relief activities in ethnic minority areas, fearing they could use such aid as a propaganda tool to buy votes, he said.
“We are concerned that civil societies, foreign organizations as well as the government are doing relief work to gain a political advantage,” said Oo Hla Saw, a central executive committee member of the Arakan National Party (ANP), the largest ethnic Rakhine political party in Myanmar.
“This aid and relief work will be taken advantage of as a [political] campaign,” he said.
In the meantime, Myanmar’s top meteorologist Tun Lwin has predicted more heavy rains in northern Myanmar’s upper Sagaing region, which could cause more flooding and landslides.
Heavy rains have been falling over the past few days in parts of Kachin state, causing more flooding. The heaviest rains to hit Chin state this year are expected this month and in October.
Affected communities were still grappling with the impact of flooding which began in early July and has affected swathes of the country.
“Because of heavy rains in the regions, mudslides are possible in areas with naturally soft soil such as Kachin, Chin and Rakhine states,” said Oo Hla Saw.
Reported by Shwe Yi Myitzu, Moe Kalyar Oo and Zarni Htun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.