Myanmar Election Authority Rejects Military Claims of Election Fraud

2021-01-28
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Myanmar Election Authority Rejects Military Claims of Election Fraud Myanmar's military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing speaks to military personnel at the Defense Services Academy by videoconference from the Ministry of Defense in Naypyidaw, Jan. 27, 2021.,
Photo courtesy of the Myanmar Military Information Committee

Myanmar election authorities broke weeks of silence on Thursday to reject the military’s claims of widespread election fraud in the 2020 elections, weighing in a day after the army chief issued a threat to abolish the country’s constitution amid rising political tensions over the electoral dispute.

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) swept the Nov. 8 elections with 82 percent of the vote, and the 75-year-old leader is set to launch her second five-year term in late March.

The army and its affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) have contended for weeks that there was widespread voter fraud and have ramped up pressure on electoral authorities to investigate. But neither the military nor the USDP, which fared poorly in the November vote, have presented any evidence of actual voter fraud.

The Union Election Commission (UEC) issued a statement on its Facebook page that said the election was conducted transparently and devoid of fraud with no significant errors that would affect the credibility of the vote.

It also said that it was investigating 287 complaints, including cases raised by the military, and that duplicated names had appeared on some list. The UEC pointed out that voters could not cast multiple ballots because their pinky fingers were dipped in indelible ink after they cast their ballots.

The commission also reminded readers that the constitution dictates that state power and sovereignty come from the country’s citizens and cannot be negotiated.

The UEC’s statement also noted that the body has ultimate authority over election-related issues, and relevant laws do not mandate that it must negotiate with the government.

“It is not the case that a citizen’s will [vote] should be negotiated or adjusted by give and take with a person or an organization by ignoring the law,” the statement said. “If this is changed in any way, it would be a violation of the constitution, Union Election Law, Parliamentary Electoral Laws, as well as against the will of the people.”

“By any law, [the UEC] is not mandated to seek ways to solve and negotiate [election-related] issues with the Union Parliament and the Union Government,” the statement said.

The military charges that many people who did not have national identification cards were allowed to vote in the election. The USDP claims to have found 8.6 million irregularities in voter lists in 314 townships that could have let voters cast multiple ballots or commit other “voting malpractice.”

The UEC said that the Election Law mandates that anyone over 18 years old can vote with or without a national ID card as long as the person has proof of Myanmar citizenship.

Talk of a military coup

A day earlier, military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said “the constitution shall be abolished, if not followed” and cited military coups in 1962 and 1988, during a video speech to military personnel at the Defense Services Academy, raising public concern about the possibility of an army revolt over claims that the November 2020 election was fraudulent.

On Tuesday, military spokesmen declined to rule out staging a coup over the claim that the country’s 2020 elections were tainted by voter fraud.

Min Aung Hlaing said the armed forces must abide by the constitution, which is the “mother of the law.”

“That’s why we shall respect and abide by it,” he said. “If this law is not followed or respected, then it shall be abolished. I mean it shall be abolished even if it is the constitution.”

During his speech, Min Aung Hlaing cited examples of when the country’s constitution was abolished in the past.

A military dictatorship under General Ne Win abolished the 1947 constitution during the reign of the Union Revolutionary Council, and another military regime abolished the 1974 constitution after a coup d’état in 1988.

The simmering crisis in a country that endured harsh military rule for five of the seven decades since its independence from Britain in 1948 drew a statement of “great concern” from U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.

“He urges all actors to desist from any form of incitement or provocation, demonstrate leadership, and to adhere to democratic norms and respecting the outcome of the 8 November general election. All electoral disputes should be resolved through established legal mechanisms,” said Guterres’ spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric.

The 2008 constitution, written by the military junta that ruled the country until 2011, allows the military commander-in-chief to assume and exercise state sovereignty, with the permission of the president, during states of emergency that could cause the disintegration of the union. But it does not condone military coups.

The charter also guarantees that 25 percent of seats in parliament are occupied by unelected uniformed soldiers who have an effective veto to block proposed constitutional changes.

The military alleges that the ruling NLD, the UEC, and Myanmar’s parliament have used the law for their own benefit after the Union Parliament Office rejected calls for a special parliamentary session to discuss the alleged voting fraud.

The wrong decision

Political observers are urging the parties to find a solution to allay public concern over a possible military takeover.

Yangon-based attorney and legal analyst Kyee Myint said the military could take over the administrative role of the country only after the constitution has been abolished.

“He [Min Aung Hlaing] said the 2008 constitution would be abolished just as the 1974 constitution had been abolished because the military is constrained by the constitution,” he said. “We have pointed out that the 2008 constitution has prevented the military from a military coup, so it is a dead end for them. If they take over civilian control under the 2008 constitution, it will be a violation of the law.”

“So, the only way to avoid a dead end is to abolish the 2008 constitution,” he said. “That’s why he said it.”

Political analyst Maung Maung Soe urged both sides to meet for discussions on the issue.

“The military is implying that there are those who are not complying with constitutional mandates,” he said. “It must be referring to the NLD government. When it said that the constitution would be abolished if it is not followed, it also meant that the crisis can be resolved if the laws are followed.”

NLD spokesperson Myo Nyunt said the military would be making the wrong decision by choosing to end Myanmar’s nascent democracy with a military coup.

“We should ask who hasn’t abided by the constitution, and how they would abolish it,” he said. “Judging by the claims made at the military information committee’s press conference, we need to retain our democratic system. Putting an end to it by a military coup would be the wrong choice.”

Former information minister and retired military officer Ye Htut said the military chief simply spelled out the worst-case scenario, but there is little possibility of an actual military coup.

“I think [he] was stating a worst-case scenario in which all the conditions lead to a state of emergency,” he said. “But as for whether the military will conduct another coup d’état, it is very unlikely that it would take over civilian control by illegal means.”

RFA contacted President’s Office spokesman Zaw Htay for comment, but he did not reply.

Khin Maung Myint, a resident of the central Myanmar town of Mandalay, said that ordinary citizens want the military and the ruling government to work together for the betterment of the country.

“We would like the military to focus on its professional duties in defense service and regain the trust and admiration of the people,” he said. “The people would like to see the military and government work together with the people to improve the economy, health care, and education.”

The new parliamentary session will begin on Feb. 1 in Naypyidaw. Appointed military lawmakers and USDP legislators have not yet confirmed if they will attend.

Reported by Thet Su Aung and Thiha Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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