ICC Note: The cancellation of the vote in only part of Myanmar, and particularly in areas primarily populated by ethnic and religious minorities, would appear to render November 8 elections ‘null and void’. ICC will continue to monitor the situation in Myanmar leading up to the vote next month.
By John Zaw, Mandalay
10/13/2015 Myanmar (UCANews.com)
Thousands of villagers in the heavily Christian areas of Kachin and Karen states in Myanmar will be unable to vote in the country’s November elections due to security concerns — putting a dent in the number of seats that ethnic-based parties can win in the highly anticipated polls.
The move comes amid unconfirmed reports that authorities may yet postpone the election nationwide.
Myanmar’s Union Election Commission announced Oct. 13 that the election will not be held in as many as 400 villages, as the poll would not be “free and fair.” However, the commission didn’t elaborate on the reasons for cancelation.
A senior opposition politician later told media that election authorities had proposed delaying the entire vote nationwide, with just weeks to go before the scheduled Nov. 8 polling day.
For now, the decision to cancel elections in some areas affects more than 300 villages in Kachin and Karen states. In addition, some villages in Bago region and Mon and Shan states will also not hold elections, according to the Oct. 13 announcement.
Daw Doi Bu, a Baptist from Kachin state and a lower house lawmaker, said the poll cancelations in her area largely affect villages controlled by the Kachin Independence Army, the rebel group that has been fighting government forces for control over parts of the state.
Ethnic-based parties have hoped to make inroads in the Nov. 8 elections. Some observers believe that the smaller ethnic parties could collectively play an influential role in a future parliament expected to be dominated by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.
The decision to cancel the election in many ethnic villages, then, will pose a challenge to smaller parties in ethnic regions.
Saw Ye Win Naing, a Buddhist politician running for an upper house seat with the Karen Democratic Party, blasted the decision to cancel the vote in so many Karen villages.
“We have already made campaigns in those areas and the cancelations have largely impacted our supporters and our ethnic voting,” Saw Ye Win Naing said.
Daw Naw Lar Khu, a Christian running for a lower house seat with the same party, said that while the cancelation does not affect her own constituency, it will be a major blow to her party and ethnic voters in general.
“Most ethnic people vote for ethnic parties so we can say that it impacts the voting rights of ethnic voters,” Daw Naw Lar Khu told ucanews.com.
In September, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon stressed the importance of voting, calling it a “fundamental right in a democracy.”
“The system that has been ruled by old elites didn’t bring any change,” Cardinal Bo said at the time. “So people need to be aware of who will bring real change.”