Despite absence of clashes, election put on hold in large parts of Kachin state

People living in many parts of Kachin state will not be able to vote in next month’s election due to conflict-related conditions, the Union Election Commission (UEC) announced on Friday.

According to the announcement, voting will be suspended in 192 village tracts in 11 of Kachin state’s 18 townships. 

The move comes despite a recent cessation of fighting in a war between the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) that began more than nine years ago.

Although there have been few major clashes in the state since 2018, officials said that access to many areas remains restricted due to ongoing tensions.

“Ultimately, it probably won’t affect our chances of victory,” said Kyaw Oo, secretary of the NLD’s Kachin chapter 

Of the affected village tracts, 87 are now largely uninhabited or home mostly to internally displaced persons (IDPs), while 66 others are controlled by armed groups, according to Htun Aung Khaing, secretary of the Kachin state election commission.

“We weren’t able to conduct the census in these villages, so they aren’t on the registered voter lists,” he told Myanmar Now.

According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, a number of villages have been completely destroyed since fighting began in June 2011.

In addition to the 66 village tracts that are effectively controlled by the KIA or other ethnic armed groups, another 20 have “no legal governance,” ministry figures showed.  

The suspension applies to villages in the townships of Khaunglanhpu, Sumprabum, Machanbaw, Mansi, Momauk, Shwegu, Chipwi, Tsawlaw, Danai, Waingmaw and N Jang Yang.

Also included in the UEC announcement were nine townships in Rakhine state, six townships in Shan state, and a number of other localities in six states and regions across the country.

Local reaction

The ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), which is favoured to win in next month’s election, took the decision in stride.

“All parties are free to campaign in almost every constituency, except for those where it has been difficult to set up polling stations,” said Kyaw Oo, the secretary of the party’s Kachin state chapter. 

“Ultimately, it probably won’t affect our chances of victory,” he added.

Others, however, were less sanguine about the decision.

Dr Manam Tu Ja, the chair of the Kachin State People’s Party (KSPP), urged both sides in the conflict to ensure that local people are not deprived of a chance to vote in the next election.

“It’s a sad loss for the people living here that they can’t vote and elect a candidate,” he said, citing the lack of an official ceasefire for the ongoing security concerns.

“The government and the KIO need to negotiate to have polling stations in these areas in 2025,” he added, referring to the Kachin Independence Organisation, the KIA’s political arm.

“It seems as if the NLD is targeting areas where it doesn’t have influence, or where it won’t win easily,” said KSPP vice-chair Gumgrawng Awng Kham.

N Jang Yang township, where Dr Manam Tu Ja is contesting Constituency No 1 for a seat in the Pyithu Hluttaw, has 61 village tracts under KIA control. 

These areas, which have a combined population of nearly 6,000 people, were also excluded from the 2010 and 2015 elections, according to the township sub-election commission.

Other members of the KSPP suggested that while cancelling the vote was justified in some areas, in others it appeared to be politically motivated.

“It seems as if the NLD is targeting areas where it doesn’t have influence, or where it won’t win easily,” said KSPP vice-chair Gumgrawng Awng Kham.

NLD supporters join a campaign rally in Myitkyina, Kachin state, on October 17 (National League for Democracy in Kachin State)

“There will be wins and losses in any election, but it has to be free and fair. Now it feels like they’re limiting our involvement,” he added.

However, at a press conference on Tuesday, UEC spokesperson Myint Naing rejected ethnic parties’ accusations of bias in favour of the NLD.

He said all decisions were based on recommendations from government ministries, including the ministries of defence and home affairs, as well as election sub-commissions.

“Based on their recommendations, we assessed whether there was any risk or if it was safe to go to the polls,” he said.

Calls for inclusion

The KSPP noted, however, that even ethnic areas under government control have a history of being left out of elections.

Sagapa and Lu Paung, two of the 13 villages in Waingmaw township that will not be included in this year’s election, were also excluded in 2015, even though they weren’t controlled by the KIA, according to KSPP victory committee chair Tan Dint.

Displaced villagers forced to flee their homes due to fighting also have a right to vote, he added.

Some IDPs, such as those from the villages of Aung Lawd and Nam Kham Par in Danai township, will have a chance to vote. 

Over 1,500 people from these villages will be voting at IDP camps in Danai, NLD candidate Lin Lin Oo, who is contesting a seat in the Pyithu Hluttaw for Danai township, told Myanmar Now.

In most cases, however, election restrictions will have the effect of disenfranchising thousands of otherwise eligible voters. In Chipwi township, for example, 11,711 registered voters will not be able to cast their ballots.

There are 18 townships and 70 constituencies in Kachin State.  Until last week, when the United Democratic Party (UDP) was dissolved, there were 18 political parties competing in the state.

The KSPP and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) are contesting 67 seats each in Kachin state, second only to the NLD.

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