‘I would call it a fake election staged by the junta’

As a former MP who contested and won elections in 2010 and 2015, Pe Than is a well-known political veteran in his native Rakhine State. More recently, however, he has become a fugitive of the regime that seized power nearly two years ago. In this interview, he shares his views on the junta’s plans to hold elections later this year.

An archive photo of Pe Than in parliament in Naypyitaw in 2016 (Supplied)

Myanmar Now: The military council has been conducting population surveys to prepare for its planned election. Do you think the election will happen despite the ongoing armed resistance that continues to rage across the country?

Pe Than: The election is just a way for the junta to get out of its political predicament. It wants to project an image of peace and stability to the international community by having political parties take part in the election.

They will rig the election and tell the world that they are the legitimate government. They will pretend that the election was “free and fair,” but it won’t be. They have tied the hands of their main rivals, the National League for Democracy, creating a situation where they can easily win. This is why the public isn’t interested in the election. It isn’t supported by the international community or the ethnic armed organisations, either. It wasn’t well-conceived and it isn’t very promising. I would call it a fake election staged by the junta.

Arakan Army troops take part in a graduation ceremony for new recruits who have completed military training (AA)

MN: How do you think it will affect Rakhine State and the Rakhine people?

The election will not benefit the Rakhine people or anyone else in the country. It will only serve to extend the regime’s hold on power and sustain the military dictatorship for the long term. I am sure that the only winners will be the junta, the [military proxy] Union Solidarity and Development Party, and their allies.

They will form the government, and I’m sure they will also be able to control the parliament. The military automatically has 25% of the seats already, so they will not face any opposition.

The political parties that participate in the election will not have any authority. It was the same before. There was no hint of federal rights for ethnic people like us during the previous two election cycles. But this election will be worse. There will be nothing in this election that will be good for the country or for the Rakhine people. This is just about [the military’s] own survival and its long-term control of the country.

Arakan Army troops are seen in an archive photo undergoing military training (Myanmar Now)

MN: The United League of Arakan/Arakan Army (ULA/AA) is now observing a temporary ceasefire with the military. Do you know what its position on the election is?

I’ve heard [ULA/AA spokesperson] Khaing Thukha say at press conference that while none of the previous elections have been good for Rakhine State, during the next election, the situation of the entire country also needs to be considered. But so far, the ULA/AA hasn’t objected to the junta’s election preparations. This may be due to the ceasefire agreement.

But just because they haven’t prohibited the collection of population data, that doesn’t mean they support the election. It’s still an open question whether the truce will remain in place until the election, or if fighting will resume. The ULA/AA talked about taking the whole country into consideration for the next election. Does this mean they will allow it or not? We will see when the time comes.

People in Rakhine State’s Sittwe Township wait to vote in the November 8, 2020, election (EPA)

MN: The Arakan League for Democracy has made it clear that it won’t contest the election, but the Arakan Front Party, led by Dr. Aye Maung, has said that it will; meanwhile, the Arakan National Party hasn’t taken any definite position on the issue.

What do you think these parties stand to gain or lose from participating in the election? And what will happen to them if they don’t?

First of all, it has to be said that the election will only take place in Rakhine State if the AA decides to let it happen. The election will be held here if the ULA/AA agrees with it, and won’t if it disagrees.

That said, there are parties willing to participate in this good-for-nothing election because that is what they were created to do—contest elections. And if they don’t, they may be dissolved, in accordance with the law.

But contesting the election won’t do their political standing any good. The public won’t respect or vote for parties or candidates that contest this election.

So they have to choose between the survival of the party and the desires of the people. How can they protect their political integrity? All we can say is that parties that participate will become mere pawns in the junta’s political game. They will not bring any benefits to the public or gain any political prestige. I think this will be an election where parties will have to make a choice between survival and maintaining their political integrity.

What matters is that the election does not have the support of the public. We don’t know what percentage of people will participate. But I can definitely say that this election will mean less to the country’s people than any other that has been held in Myanmar.

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