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Myanmar military, govt clash over election

Military chief accuses election commission of mishandling preparations for Nov. 8 polls

Myanmar military, govt clash over election

Healthcare workers wait to collect early votes from Covid-19 patients ahead of the general election at a community coronavirus facility in Yangon on Nov. 5. (Photo: Ye Aung Thu/AFP)

In the final days of campaigning for the Nov. 8 general election, Myanmar’s civilian government and military are at odds over deficiencies in poll management.

Military chief Min Aung Hlaing said the Union Election Commission (UEC) had mishandled voter lists, ballot envelopes and ballot boxes.

“Although the UEC had over four years of preparation time for the 2020 election, there is much weakness even in arranging envelopes for votes and ballot boxes,” he said in a Nov. 2 statement.

He warned that deficiencies could have “adverse impacts on the image of the election.”

He also told a local news outlet in a rare interview that the military is a guardian of the country and is closely watching election preparations.

“I told the media in an interview in 2015 that we would accept the result by the election commission as long as it was free and fair. But we are now in a situation where we need to be cautious,” said Min Aung Hlaing.

Zaw Htay, the Myanmar president’s spokesperson, said the military’s criticism was based on uncertain words from others and was not in line with the law. “It could fuel unrest and concerns,” he told a news conference on Nov. 4.

Around 7,000 candidates from 92 political parties are vying for 1,171 seats in the upper and lower houses of the national parliament and in state and regional legislatures in the polls.

About 37 million people out of the country’s 54 million population are eligible to vote.

Observers see it as a test of Myanmar’s democratic reforms as the country is in a transition to democracy after emerging from five decades of military rule.

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Powerful military

Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has also been at odds with the powerful military on numerous issues including amending the 2008 constitution that was drafted by the military.

The 2008 charter mandates that a quarter of all parliamentary seats must be reserved for the military. It also gives them control of key portfolios like home affairs, defense and border security.

Pro-democracy campaigners oppose a provision that grants military MPs the power to veto any proposed charter changes, especially any amendments that would curb their political power.

The constitution also bars Suu Kyi from becoming president because she married a foreigner. She has thus been restricted to the dual roles of state counselor and foreign minister.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won a landslide victory in 2016 over the military-linked Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) to end decades-long strong military rule.

Myanmar’s Nobel laureate has strong public support at home despite her image being tarnished in the world over her moral failure to speak out for the persecuted Rohingya in Rakhine state.

She defended Myanmar at the International Court of Justice against genocide charges for the military crackdown that led to more than 700,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh.

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