Myanmar junta announces prosecution of elected civilian leaders for alleged election fraud

The military council announced in state media on Tuesday that they had “prosecuted” detained State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and 14 other individuals for alleged election fraud.

The official announcement came more than nine months after the military overthrew the elected civilian government led by National League for Democracy (NLD) party leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a pre-dawn coup on February 1, on the pretext that voter fraud was perpetrated by her party in last year’s general election amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite reports from local and international poll observers that the electoral outcome—in which the NLD won the majority of votes—was valid, the junta’s new election commission officially annulled and overturned the results in July.

In addition to the State Counsellor and the President, the military council also accused members of the previous election commission and ousted NLD government officials of participating in “electoral fraud and lawless actions with the aim of preventing a free and fair election.”

Those accused include Zaw Myint Maung, deposed chief minister of Mandalay Region and the NLD’s vice chair; Min Thu, the former government office minister; Myo Aung, the former Naypyitaw Council chair; and Hla Thein, Myint Naing and Than Htay, the chair and members of the former election body.

The junta alleged that they violated electoral laws in their assignment of election sub-commission officials, by threatening commission officials at military poll stations, rigging advance voting processes and voter lists, and by interfering in campaigns in favour of the NLD. 

According to the junta’s announcement, legal complaints were filed against the defendants in respective courts across the country on Monday, but the exact charges were not specified—only that they fell under the “existing laws and parliamentary election laws.”

Suu Kyi, Win Myint and other NLD-appointed cabinet members and chief ministers have been detained since the day of the coup. The 76-year-old State Counsellor faces a total of 11 charges for corruption, incitement, and violations of public health restrictions during the electoral period. 

At a court hearing in Naypyitaw on Tuesday for Suu Kyi, Win Myint and Myo Aung, the three leaders reportedly told their lawyers that they had heard about the election fraud charges against them but had not been formally notified, according to court sources.

Electoral system debate

Military chief Min Aung Hlaing has promised to hold another election by 2023, appointing himself “prime minister” of the “caretaker government.” 

His new election commission led by former general Thein Soe, has been pushing in recent months to change the existing electoral system to one of Proportional Representation (PR) favoured by the military and its small proxy parties, including the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

Myanmar’s elections currently operate under a winner-takes-all First Past The Post (FTTP) voting system, under which the candidate who receives the most votes in a constituency is elected. 

The FTTP voting system was implemented in accordance with the military-drafted and widely unpopular 2008 Constitution, but under it, the NLD secured two landslide victories in 2015 and 2020.

Analysts have suggested that the humiliating defeat dealt to the USDP by the NLD last year may have been a contributing factor in the military launching a coup in early 2021.

Under PR, the number of seats awarded to each party is typically determined by the overall share of the vote that it wins across the country; parties whose candidates fail to secure a majority of votes in any constituency could still theoretically obtain seats in Parliament. 

Other major political parties, such as the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), have expressed concern over the military’s motivation for switching to a PR electoral system and the framework under which such a system would be implemented. The reason for the suggested electoral shift, SNLD general secretary Sai Leik told Myanmar Now in October, is likely because the military “doesn’t want to give up its place in politics.” 

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