STRANGULATION OF POLITICAL SPACE: UEC cancelled voting in five ethnic states and a division

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Although people have expected that there will be some cancellation of voting in several ethnic states, when the Union Election Commission (UEC) actually announced widespread disappointment occurred, particularly among the ethnic political parties (EPPs), as it was relatively higher in numbers than the previous general elections in 2015 and anger flared up over the National League for Democracy (NLD) tricky manipulation and heavy-handedness  to undercut the ethnic political clout by using the UEC.

cancelled the general elections in Rakhine state
Townships in Rakhine state where the general elections have been cancelled

Although UEC is supposed to be neutral, now many see it, rightly or wrongly, as an affiliation of the NLD, ready to implement whatever it is told to do so.

Mongywa Aung Shin

Mongywa Aung Shin, information secretary of the NLD central office regarding the election situation for its party told Akonthi news a few months ago: “Southern Arakan situation is good for us. We will have to struggle in the northern part. In Shan State we will have to struggle in the north. We have calculated a lot.”

As it is, the cancellation list confirmed that almost all the constituencies that it now earmarked not to hold elections are ethnic parties stronghold and is designed to undercut the EPPs political clout and eventual influence in national politics.

For example, in Arakan State all the nine townships are places where the Arakan National Party (ANP) won decisively and where the NLD came out very poorly behind the party in a wide margin.

In the same vein, in Shan State UEC has tried to reduce the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) political influence by even cancelling Mong Kung (Maing Kaing in Burmese) to hold election without giving any reason, which is the one of the stronghold of SNLD. 

In addition, the Tatmadaw or Burma Army deliberately created armed conflict with the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), which is a signatory of the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), so that many of the village tracts between Kyaukme and Nawnghkio could be put into the election cancellation category. But, of course, there is no evidence if the Tatmadaw and NLD were working hand-in-hand together to undercut the SNLD political influence in Shan State.

Fortunately, the armed clashes in Kyaukme Township subsided after a week. It is not clear if the Tatmadaw offensives on RCSS was just a limited planned engagement to achieve a certain goal, such as realization of election cancellation of the SNLD support base area and so on. 

Maybe it could also be the sabre-rattling of RCSS boss, General Sao Ywad Serk who responded to an interview by Shan News quite recently as: “We’re at the stage of self defence now. If the Tadmadaw chooses to attack, we’ll have to respond in kind, even though we’re committed to go according to the NCA-based peace negotiation.”

“Our representatives met the Tatmadaw representatives recently, but they didn’t mention anything about the armed clashes that occurred between us. And we’re not going to ask them or tell them not to attack us here and there. If they intrude into our territories, we’ll shoot back. We just can’t be a sitting-duck and let them cut our throats, without defending,” he added quite assertively and forcefully to make his point.

Election cancellation constituencies

The locations of Election-cancelled Village Tracts
The locations of Election-cancelled Village Tracts

On October 16, UEC announced cancellation of elections in 5 ethnic states and 1 region (also known widely and previously as division).  

The breakdown is:

  • Kachin State: from 11 townships – village tracts 192
  • Karen State: from 6 townships – village tracts 53
  • Mon State: from 1 township – village tract 1
  • Arakan State: from 9 townships; 4 townships – quarters & village tracts 152
  • Shan State: from 6 townships; 17 townships – quarters & village tracts 141
  • Bago Division: from 2 townships – village tracts 42

The total cancellation are complete 15 townships (Arakan 9 & Shan 6) that cannot wholly hold elections; and 41 townships covering 581 village tracts, countrywide.

Affected ethnic states

The areas not allowed elections Shan State
The areas not allowed elections Shan State

Looking at the given cancellation figures, Arakan, Shan and Kachin states are most affected areas, followed by Karen State and Karen populated two townships in Bago Division.  

Sai Nyunt Lwin, vice-chair of the SNLD regarding the Mong Kung Township cancellation complained to Khit Thit Media on October 18: “There is no armed clashes (in Mong Kung). One can say that it is more secure than Naypyitaw,  which has experienced hand grenades thrown (into UEC official house). In Mong Kung there is nothing like that.”

“That’s why I don’t know why it comes out like this. But for our party 3 of our representatives won’t be included. The people will lose their 3 parliamentary representatives and this isn’t a good thing,” he added.

Sai Nyunt Lwin also explicitly pointed out that the NLD targeting of the ethnic nationalities is absolute as he said: “Another thing I wanted to say is that all cancellations are in ethnic areas, except Chin and Kayah. Bago Division is the only one from all the divisions. But in Bago, Shwe Kyin and Kyaukgyi are two townships which are cancelled which are inhabited by Karen. In sum, ethnic nationalities areas are cancelled and they won’t be able to vote, all losing their voting rights.”

The same news outlet on the same day quoted U San Kyaw Hla, Chairman of the Arakan State Parliament as saying: “Not holding elections in 9 townships means the NLD thought that they would lose in these places. The removed places are ones that they have no way to win. The UEC should explain why it cannot hold elections in these places, but it didn’t.”

“In Paletwa everyone knows that it is a hard place to hold election as fierce battles were fought. But election will be held in Paletwa. This is because NLD will surely win. In Pauktaw very near to Sittway there is no incidence but election won’t be held because NLD will lose if election is held there,” he complained.

Outlook

election area

Looking at the given facts unfolding before us, one can’t help to think that the NLD is using everything and every trick at its disposal to get elected with an absolute majority so that it could form government again. So much so, that it seems to be committed to achieve its goal by hook or by crook, even at the expense of abandoning the democratic values and principles.

According Aung Moe Win, prominent activist and educator, in his Facebook recently said, NLD won’t go far with its dirty tricks and anti-coalition stance, especially going against the democratic norms. He said that its high time it made an about turn and embrace real democratic values.

He pointed out that obstruction of United Nationalities Democracy Party’s  (UNDP) signpost in Kawhmu constituency, censorship of political parties speeches by the UEC to be aired on MRTV; and election cancellation of hundreds of ethnic constituencies are dirty tricks that will pave the way for downfall of NLD.

Finally, “the narrowing of political space will lead to widening the theatre of war,” the expression widely used in today’s  country political jargon. For sure, the youth of Arakan State will flock to join AA, if they haven’t already done it, with the NLD strangulation of political space, which will definitely be highly contagious to the youth in other ethnic states.

For now, the NLD has the choice to make an about turn and embrace genuine federal democratic political values and seek reconciliation with the EPPs or just strive to win elections and form government again, at the expense of the ethnic nationalities’ ire and probably their permanent lost of trust, similar to the Tatmadaw or on a par with it.

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