Myanmar President Appeals For Rakhine Elections Amid Truce in Conflict

2020-12-15
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Myanmar President Appeals For Rakhine Elections Amid Truce in Conflict Myanmar's President Win Myint casts an advance vote at a polling station in the country's capital Naypyidaw, Oct. 29, 2020.
AFP

Myanmar's President Win Myint has called for cooperation among all sides in the Rakhine state conflict so elections can be held in the troubled state where voting was cancelled last month because of fighting, but a rare truce has held for five weeks.

Myanmar election authorities cancelled voting in conflict areas of the western state, preventing about 1.2 million voters from casting ballots in the Nov. 8 general elections won by a landslide by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD).

Citing security reasons, authorities suspended voting in Rathedaung, Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Mrauk-U, Ponnagyun, Myebon, Kyauktaw, Minbya, and Pauktaw townships.

Those northern townships have been ravaged by a two-year-old military conflict between Myanmar forces and the rebel Arakan Army (AA) that has killed about 300 civilians, injured more than 600 others, and driven about 226,000 people into internal displacement camps.

The president made the remark in a printed statement to mark the 46th Rakhine State Day on Monday, the anniversary of the day Rakhine was established as a separate state under the 1974 constitution.

“It is very regrettable for local people in the areas where the elections were postponed due to lack of stable security conditions for holding free and fair elections in Rakhine state,” the statement said.

“I wish to make a special request to concerned individuals and relevant organizations to participate and cooperate to create favorable conditions for the holding of free and fair elections,” it said.

Days after the Nov. 8 election, the AA and its political wing issued an appeal to hold “by-elections” in the conflict zones, saying that the failure to hold balloting in most townships had resulted in “the loss of the right to vote and the loss of elected representatives who can represent the voice of the people.”

The Myanmar military also issued a statement calling for the holding of elections in the conflict zones. The two sides now are observing an unofficial cease-fire.

The government’s willingness

Pe Than, a Rakhine state lawmaker and member of the policy committee of the Arakan National Party, blasted Win Myint’s message for not directly addressing the Union Election Commission (UEC), which oversees balloting in the country, instead of issuing a general call to all concerned parties.

“He should be making these calls to the UEC,” Pe Than said. “The military has already stated that it also called for elections and that it is willing to cooperate to make them happen. On the ground, there is no more combat, so it only depends on the government’s willingness.”

Political analyst Maung Maung Soe said that the president should supervise plans to hold the elections, instead of issuing calls for them.

“It would be best if the government clearly confirmed whether the elections will be hold as it has suggested,” he said. “The government should be openly stating its agreement instead of encouraging it.”

The holding of elections in Rakhine would require action by lawmakers, said NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt.

“Holding follow-up elections in Rakhine state is not entirely up to the government and the UEC,” he said. “There is a law that mandates that by-elections shall not be held in the first and last years of parliamentary term, so it is parliament’s role to amend it.”

Myo Nyunt also said that the temporary post-election truce between the Myanmar military and AA must hold so that voting can proceed.

“Having a temporary cease-fire in the region is not enough,” he said. “Both sides need to guarantee that the cease-fire will hold. The UEC and the government alone cannot make that happen. Only when all parties work together, we will be able to complete the follow-up elections.”

Thurein Htut, secretary of the Rakhine State Election Subcommission, said the body is ready to hold elections in townships where they had been cancelled.

Representatives from the Myanmar military and the AA met on Dec. 9 in Pangkham in the territory controlled by the United Wa State Army for the first time after years of fighting to discuss a permanent cease-fire and long-term peace, according to military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun.

“We proceeded with a direct meeting with them [the AA] because we believe that it could be an opening for a cease-fire and peace deal,” he said. “We can see the results of these direct communications. We haven’t seen any armed combat in Rakhine state since Nov. 7 or 8.”

It is unclear whether government officials knew about the meeting and had any input.

Zaw Min Tun declined to comment on whether the military consulted the government prior to the meeting.

However, he said the military also would meet with the government’s peace commission and the members of the Northern Alliance of rebel armies that includes the AA, Kachin Independence Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army.

‘Doing it on their own’

If the military pursues peace directly with ethnic armed groups without consulting the government, it would not bode well for long-term success, said NLD spokesman Monywa Aung Shin.

“The military needs to inform all organizations [involved in] the peace process, including the government before it meets with ethnic armed groups like the AA which has been designated as a terrorist organization,” he said.

“Now, they overstepped the boundary and talked directly to each other,” he added. “It would have been preferable if the military had included relevant government organizations or the peace commission.”

Political analyst Than Soe Naing said that the defense forces and the civilian-led government are now going it alone in their quest to get a peace deal done.

“They have no coordination with one another or have any consideration for one another,” he said. “They are doing it on their own.”

“Now, we see that the military and the AA are very enthusiastic about holding the elections, but the government and the UEC are not,” he added.

Zaw Htay, spokesman for the President’s Office, did not respond to RFA’s request for comment.

Hla Maung Shwe, an advisor to the Myanmar Peace Commission, noted that there is already a policy in place for meeting with the Northern Alliance.

“We have completed the draft agreements to sign preliminary cease-fire deals,” he said.

“We hope to move forward step by step to the next level,” he said. “This is good. Whether it was a bilateral or a quadruple meeting, it is in line with our policy. In any case, from that point on, we hope to proceed [with the peace talks].”

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

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