Residents of western Myanmar’s Chin state will face challenges reaching polling places to vote in general elections in November because of washed-out roads and bridges caused by recent floods along with continued heavy rains, local election officials said Wednesday.
More than 270,000 voters of Chin’s population of 478,800 may not be able to reach polling stations to cast ballots for 202 candidates from their state because traveling will be hazardous or impossible, especially in Tonzang, Tiddim, Falam and Hakha townships, ethnic Chin political party leaders said.
Flooding and landslides caused by monsoon rains and the tail end of Cyclone Komen since last month affected nearly 1.3 million people in Myanmar, killing more than 100 of them. The government had declared Chin and Rakhine states, and Magway and Sagaing regions as disaster zones on July 31.
“The entire town of Hakha [capital of Chin state] must be relocated,” said Pu Gin Kam Lian, general secretary of the Zomi Congress for Democracy. “Roads and bridges in Tiddim and Tonzang were damaged by heavy rain in July. That’s why it is not easy for MPs [members of parliament] to do campaigns in the region.”
Tonzang, which has the largest population of all the townships in Chin state, is still being pounded by heavy rain that could destroy road repairs, he said.
A month has passed since the state was affected by landslides, but the government has been unable to repair damage to roads and bridges, Pu Gin Kam Lian said.
“We can’t expect these roads to be repaired in time for the elections, and it is impossible for MPs to travel in Chin state,” he said.
Lawmakers throughout the country will begin campaigning on Sept. 8.
The heaviest rains in Chin state are expected next month and in October, which could further complicate the situation, Pu Gin Kam Lian said.
“People in these townships are not interested in voting in the election because they are in trouble,” he said. “They don’t need the elections, but they do need to survive. It would be good if the government extended the campaign period before the elections.”
So far, the government is not planning to extend the two-month campaign period or push ahead voting day.
“If the election is held in November, the ruling USDP [Union Solidarity and Development Party] could win in Chin state because it has paid staff in every village to campaign [for its candidates],” he said.
Political observers expect the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to win the elections.
Registered voters in Kokang
In the meantime, more than 40,000 people in northern Myanmar’s war-torn Kokang region, a self-administered zone in the northern part of Shan State, have registered to vote in the November general elections.
They account for about one-third of the total population of 130,000 from the townships Laukkai and Konegyan, according to the Northern Shan State Election Commission.
“We will announce figures from the voting lists that other townships have done,” said San Oo, an election commission official. “We have 21,030 people registered to vote in Laukkai and 18,148 people in Konegyan, but some government employees have not yet been included.”
Kokang got under way with registering voters despite months of skirmishes with the Myanmar army and the recent extension of a state of emergency which extends through the Nov. 8 elections.
The fighting, which started in northern Shan state in February, resulted in hundreds of deaths and displaced tens of thousands of residents, many of whom fled over the border into China.
On Tuesday, Myanmar’s parliament approved a third 90-day extension of martial law in Kokang because of ongoing fighting.
The hostilities have prevented President Thein Sein’s government from reaching a nationwide cease-fire agreement with all the country’s armed ethnic groups to end decades of civil wars before the elections.
Reported by Shwe Yee Myintzu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.