Myanmar’s Union Election Commission (UEC), which oversees polls in the country, announced Tuesday that next month’s general election will not be held in two additional townships in war-torn Shan state, meaning residents of either part or all of 16 townships in the region are not eligible to vote.
In a statement, the UEC said the Nov. 8 vote would be canceled in all of Monghsu and Kyethi townships, in Shan state’s Loilen district, as well as in eight villages in Lashio district’s Tangyan township and 42 villages in Hopang township, in the state’s ethnic Wa Self-Administered Division.
The UEC claimed that the situation in the newly declared no-vote areas is “not conducive to free and fair elections,” without providing further details, and cited Article 10(F) of the Union Election Commission Law which grants the body the right to cancel elections in the event of regional instability.
Fighting between the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N)—the armed wing of the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP)—and government troops in areas near Monghsu, Kyethi and Tangyan since Oct. 6 has displaced about 3,000 residents in the region.
Last week, the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP) called on the UEC to postpone the election in the three townships until fighting dies down.
Tuesday’s statement follows an Oct. 12 announcement from the UEC that the election would not be held in more than 400 villages in Kachin, Karen, Shan and Mon states, as well as 41 villages in Bago region.
Khun Tun Oo, chairman of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD)—which is fielding about 160 candidates in Shan state and other regions—suggested the announcement was part of a bid by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) to deny his party a victory in the townships. The commission’s chair was appointed by President Thein Sein.
“The UEC’s announcement makes us unable to contest in the election,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service, adding that SNLD members say there are no clashes occurring in Hopang and Tangyan townships.
“The UEC made this decision, despite a lack of fighting in these townships, because they know our party will definitely win there … They believe we will merge with the [opposition] National League for Democracy (NLD) if we win and form a joint government, but we have no plan to do this.”
Khun Tun Oo said the announcement had led members of the SNLD to question whether next week’s elections will be free and fair.
Nang Kaung Kham, an SNLD candidate, told RFA that while fighting continues in parts of Monghsu and Kyethi, the UEC was unjustified in canceling elections in the townships.
“We are conducting a survey about whether the election should be held in these areas and will submit our findings to the UEC tomorrow,” he said.
“It’s fine if they relocate the polling stations to other areas, but we don’t want the UEC to cancel the election in these townships.”
Additionally, the UEC announced Tuesday that it will publish a final version of the national voter list on Nov. 5, and that anyone not included will be ineligible to vote.
At a press conference, UEC director general Tin Tun said the commission had decided to extend the deadline for the final list by three days from the original date of Nov. 2 to ensure as many people have the ability to vote as possible.
“If your name is not on the final voting list, you can’t vote,” he said, adding that the list had already been amended to include thousands of names since early versions were released in June and members of the public were asked to come forward to point out any errors.
“We asked people to apply again for voting if their names were not on the [earlier] lists, so there is no reason for them not to be on the final list if they did so.”
Tin Tun said the UEC was working hard to ensure the list was as precise as possible, despite mounting criticism over inaccuracies—such as including a high number of deceased people—and for omitting what is estimated to be tens of thousands of people a mere two weeks before the vote.
“The UEC, and township- and village-level election commissions … are doing our best for the voter's list,” he said.
Some 32 million people are eligible to vote in Myanmar and next month’s election is expected to be the most competitive since Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD swept the polls in 1990, though that victory was ignored by the country’s then-ruling military regime.
The NLD, which boycotted the country’s 2010 general election amid concerns of fraud, is expected to seriously challenge the ruling USDP in next month’s polls, and has suggested the UEC is manipulating the voter list in favor of the current government.
Ye Htut, the information minister and a presidential spokesman, recently dismissed the allegations in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, saying problems with the voter list were not the result of fraud, but of “incompetence.”
Also on Tuesday, a survey conducted by the Election Support Group during advance voting by Myanmar citizens in Singapore found that the vast majority of voters had chosen NLD candidates for seats in parliament at both the national and regional levels.
Soe Tun, a member of the group, told RFA that the Oct. 15-21 survey found that of the 14,024 people voting for seats in the national parliament, 99.08 percent had backed NLD candidates for the Upper House, while 99.05 percent had chosen NLD candidates for the Lower House.
Of the 13,936 people voting for state- and region-level parliamentary seats, 98.79 percent had selected NLD candidates, he said.
Election Support Group said many Myanmar nationals in Singapore had been unable to vote because their names were absent from the voter list or because they did not receive the necessary ballots for all parliaments. More than 1,000 people reapplied to vote, but have yet to receive a response from the UEC, it said.
Ballot problems and delays with advance voting for Myanmar overseas voters have raised concerns among citizens over the motives of authorities in charge of managing the polling process in the run-up to the elections.
Advance voting, which began in mid-October, has been marred in one case by ballots being sent to the wrong embassy, by errors and omissions on the ballots themselves, and by incomplete voter lists and long waits to cast votes.
About 35,000 Myanmar citizens are eligible for advance voting in 37 countries.
Reported by Win Ko Ko Lat, Win Naung Toe, Thinn Thiri, Moe Klyar Oo and Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.