August 19, 2016

NO ELECTION DELAY—Union Election Commission makes a U-turn

Union Election Commission Chairman U Tin Aye addresses the meeting with representatives from seven political parties.—Myanmar News Agency
Union Election Commission Chairman U Tin Aye addresses the meeting with representatives from seven political parties.—Myanmar News Agency

After touting the idea of delaying Myanmar’s much-anticipated general elections due to disruptions caused by flooding and landslides, the Union Election Commission announced last night that it will be held on November 8 as scheduled.
A statement issued by the commission said that it took into account the views expressed by representatives from seven political parties during a meeting held yesterday morning in Nay Pyi Taw to discuss a possible postponement.
“The UEC reviewed the opinions put forth by a number of political parties and has decided to go ahead with the election on 8 November. There will be no delay,” said the statement issued by UEC.
Myanmar News Agency also reported the views expressed by the parties that took part in the meeting.
The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) supported the idea of postponing the election – for an unspecified period – on the grounds that natural disasters have prevented candidates from campaigning in certain areas; in particular Shan and Kachin states.
The main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD)     disagreed, saying that the impact of the flooding was not an insurmountable obstacle to holding an election.
Floods hit 12 of the country’s 14 states and regions in July through to September, killing 132 people and affecting an estimated 1.6 million people – the equivalent of almost half a million families, the UEC said.
The floods were the worst natural disaster to occur in Myanmar since Cyclone Nargis killed nearly 140,000 people in May 2008. A constitutional referendum took place a few days after the cyclone hit, although it was delayed in the worst affected areas. However the then-government came under fire from the United Nations and other members of the international community for not postponing the referendum entirely, as the scale of destruction was so vast. The referendum passed significant constitutional changes, including the 25 percent allocation of parliamentary seats to members of the military and the ineligibility of persons married to foreigners to take on the role of president.
The  UEC chairman cited a meeting back on 21 July this year when members of the National League for Democracy Party, Myanmar Farmers’ Development Party and Guiding Star Party had proposed the election be delayed due to errors in voters’ lists. During the same meeting, a representative from Chin Progressive Party had suggested the election be postponed because of difficulties of campaigning in areas hit by floods and landslides, he said.
U Tin Aye had also urged yesterday’s meeting participants to consider a lack of peace and stability in some areas, saying that political parties were prevented from carrying out effective campaigning in certain areas of Shan State, Kachin State and the Palaung Self-administered Region.
A representative from the National Unity Party agreed that the election should be postponed, citing “social chaos” and natural disasters.
The National Democratic Force reportedly questioned whether postponing the election would adversely impact the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, which is scheduled to be signed on Thursday by eight armed ethnic armed groups and the government.
Myanmar Farmers’ Development Party supported the postponement of the election, while Arakan National Party urged the UEC to determine whether a delay would impact the situation of Internally Displaced People in Rakhine State. The party suggested that the postponement of the election should be nationwide, not be region-wise, if it were to be delayed.
The general election is being hailed as a historic turning point for Myanmar, a country which has not held a democratic election for 25 years. A number of international election observers, including those from the European Union, have already arrived in Myanmar and will publish reports shortly after the polls, while both local and foreign investors are watching keenly.


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