Amid Fragile Ceasefire, Frustration Over Missed Election in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

Amid Fragile Ceasefire, Frustration Over Missed Election in Myanmar’s Rakhine State People wearing face shields and face masks to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus queue to vote at a polling station in Rakhine state, Nov. 8, 2020.
Photo: RFA

Rakhine’s ethnic army and politicians blamed Myanmar’s ruling party and electoral authorities Thursday for the failure to hold elections in the war-torn state, as analysts warned that holding a vote will be critical to keeping a fragile ceasefire going into 2021.

After a violent 2020 in Myanmar’s westernmost state, Rakhine residents were  largely left out of voting in Nov. 8 general elections, with only a quarter of the state’s  registered voters able to go to polls after authorities scrapped the election, citing security concerns.

Aung San Suu Kyi and her ruling National League for Democracy won a second five-year mandate in the elections, which were followed by nascent efforts to end a two-year-long war in Rakhine state between government forces and the Arakan Army (AA) that has killed more than 300 civilians and displaced 226,000 others.

Days after the Nov. 8 elections, the military unveiled a permanent Peace Talks Committee to negotiate with rebel armies, and voiced support for the AA’s call on Nov. 12 to hold elections by year’s end in Rakhine state districts where voting was controversially cancelled last month over security concerns.

The two sides had agreed to an unofficial cease-fire that expires Thursday, a pact aimed at allowing the holding of elections in districts of Rakhine state that did not hold a vote. Voting was cancelled entirely in nine Rakhine townships, and in more than 100 wards of other townships, leaving 1.2 million out of 1.6 million registered voters in the state unable to cast ballots.

As the Dec. 31 deadline to hold the vote lapsed, Khine Thukha, spokesman for the AA, which is fighting for autonomy for ethnic Rakhines, laid the blame for the impasse on the ruling NLD and the Union Election Commission, which overseas voting and postponed the elections in Rakhine and other conflict zones.

“We have appealed to the government to hold elections in canceled townships of Rakhine state. The Myanmar military also welcomed this proposition,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“It is now obvious the reason we couldn’t hold elections in these canceled townships. It is on the NLD and UEC. The answer is clear,” he said.

Asked about the election issue, military spokesman Major Gen Zaw Min Tun declined to comment.

RFA also repeatedly contacted the UEC by email and telephone but received no reply as of Thursday.

On Wednesday Zaw Min Tun said the military has been working with AA troops to avoid armed combat and maintain the ceasefire, and denied that the army has been reinforcing troops in Rakhine, as villagers in the conflict zone had claimed.

“We believe that this temporary cease-fire and peace will lead to the IDPs returning to their homes from IDP camps and eventually progress in the peace process,” he said, referring to internally displaced persons.

Political analyst Maung Maung Soe urged the UEC to address the Rakhine election question, calling it an important factor for securing peace in the state.

“If the UEC still has plans to hold the elections, it is time to make an announcement,” he told RFA. The UEC’s inaction raise questions whether they are truly independent.”

Pe Than, an official of the Arakan National Party (ANP), said Rakhine had become quiet since the Nov. 8 election ad there was no excuse not to hold a vote.

The situation has become quite stable in Rakhine state these days, and the military has clearly endorsed the holding of elections,” the told RFA.

“We have seen the ruling government officials have been giving excuses that the region is not stable enough to hold the elections. So we can assume it is the ruling government that doesn’t support plans for the elections.

President office spokesman Zaw Htay did not respond to RFA’s request for comment Thursday.

Thurein Htut, secretary of the Rakhine State Election Commission, said local voting authorities are ready to hold the election as soon as they get a green light from the UEC.

“If we get the order to go ahead, we will hold the election. If we don’t, we can’t.”

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Paul Eckert.


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