Myanmar Political Parties Want Say on 2020 Election Timing Amid Coronavirus Fight

myanmar-election-officials-sittwe-rakhine-nov8-2015.jpg Myanmar Union Election Commission officials prepare ballot papers ahead of the opening of polls at the Maw-Li Polling Station in Sittwe, capital of western Myanmar's Rakhine state, Nov. 8, 2015.

Political parties in Myanmar have urged the Union Election Commission to consult them on whether to postpone the country’s 2020 general election due to the coronavirus pandemic, party officials said Tuesday.

Their call came after election commissioner Myint Naing told state-run radio that the commission would hold the election this year as planned, according to a post on the EUC's Facebook page on Monday.

The UEC is responsible for organizing and overseeing elections, and vetting parliamentary candidates and political parties in Myanmar.

The exact date of the election has yet to be announced, but the commission has said the 2020 vote will be held in November, as it was in 2010 and 2015, despite concerns by the political parties that Myanmar should focus first on controlling the spread of the virus.

UEC members have de-emphasized concerns that the spread of the coronavirus could force the rescheduling of the vote and have noted that South Korea managed to hold a general election in April amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Others argue that Myanmar is not as developed as South Korea and does not have the same resources to control the spread of the virus.

As of Tuesday, Myanmar reported 161 confirmed cases of the virus and six deaths.

“In this period of the coronavirus pandemic, all political parties and other concerned organizations should decide whether the general election should be held instead of the Union Election Commission deciding on its own,” said Ye Naing Aung, general secretary of the People’s Party.

Thein Tun Oo, spokesman and central committee member of the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), agreed that the UEC should not be the sole decision maker.

“During the virus pandemic, the Union Election Commission alone should not decide whether the election should be held or not,” he said. “It’s a decision for all. We should decide only after negotiations with all political parties and concerned organizations.”

‘Low voter turnout’

Sai Leik, a spokesman for the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), said concerns over the virus may keep voters away from the polls.

“During the pandemic, people are facing difficulties, so there could be low public interest in the election,” he said.

Sai Leik also said that the current armed conflict in parts of western Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin states would make it difficult to hold elections there.

“Everyone knows that armed struggles are becoming bigger in Rakhine, Chin, and other places, so it won’t be possible to hold elections there at the same time,” he said. “We need to be able to end the armed conflicts first.”

Sai Ye Kyaw Swar Myint, executive director of the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections, cautioned that the COVID-19 outbreak would prevent the coordination necessary for holding the general election.

“There would be very low voter turnout for the election,” he said, adding that the current crisis will pose problems for election preparations and management.

“All the political parties will not be able to conduct election campaigns, and there will be unfairness,” he said. “There will be questions raised concerning election standards.”

About 100 political parties are expected to contest the 2020 election, according to the online journal The Irrawaddy.

Reported by Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Maung Maung Nyo. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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