Rakhine officials ask election commission to reconsider decision to cancel voting in four townships

Rakhine officials have asked Myanmar’s national election body to reconsider its decision to cancel voting in several townships in the state during next month’s poll after meeting with several political parties. 

The Union Election Commission (UEC) may now allow voting to go ahead in Pauktaw, where the election was cancelled entirely, as well as south Maungdaw and several village tracts in Sittwe and Taungup.

The announcement came after state election officials met with figures from the Arakan National Party (ANP), the Arakan League for Democracy (ALD), the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) on Monday.

Thurein Tun, secretary of Rakhine state’s election commission, said his office has sent an official request to the national commission to reverse its decision to ban voting in these regions. 

“Four village tracts were left out in Sittwe. And the south of Maungdaw, and the entire township of Pauktaw. And eight village tracts in Taungup,” he told Myanmar Now. “We’re [asking them to review] these regions.” 

The UEC announced on October 16 that there would be full or partial vote cancellations in constituencies in Rakhine, Kachin, Karen, Mon, and Shan states, as well as Bago region, because of security concerns. 

Those areas “cannot guarantee conditions to hold free and fair elections,” the commission said in a statement at the time.  

But the decision was met with widespread criticism. Some argued that the cancellations would unfairly favour the NLD because they were in areas where ethnic parties enjoyed strong support. 

The ANP and the ALD criticised the UEC’s decision to allow voting in Chin state’s conflict-ridden Paletwa township while cancelling in Sittwe, Pauktaw and Maungdaw, where there are currently no clashes.

Voting was allowed to go ahead in Paletwa after the military agreed to the UEC’s request to handle security there, Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, a military spokesperson, told a press conference on October 24.

“Our party thinks that the public’s rights have been unjustly taken away if there isn’t an election, and there’s still time to review and reconsider,” Tun Aung Kyaw, a policy strategist from the ANP, said at Monday’s meeting.

The UEC ought to have consulted political parties before cancelling voting, ALD general secretary Myo Kyaw told Myanmar Now.

“The state election commission has done what it should do. But the election is days away. So the UEC needs to respond promptly for the election to happen in these regions,” he said.

Representatives from the NLD said at the meeting that the election should be held in Pauktaw and Sittwe as both places were stable with no clashes, and the USDP agreed.

“We’ll be glad if voters can freely cast their votes to the party and candidate of their choice,” said Thaung Sein, chair of the Sittwe branch of the NLD. “We presented that it was a good thing to be able to cast a vote freely during this global pandemic.”

Thurein Tun, the Rakhine state election official, said the UEC would have the final say. “That is the UEC’s decision. We can only report to them the requests of political parties and the voters… But the decision isn’t up to us,” he said.

As things stand, only four of Rakhine’s 17 townships – Thandwe, Gwa, Munaung and Ramree – will see voting go ahead without any restrictions on November 8. The rest face either total or partial cancellations. 

A total of 36 seats nationwide are due to go unfilled because of the cancellations. Nine of those are in the Pyithu Hluttaw, Myanmar’s lower house; seven in the Amyotha Hluttaw, the upper house; and 20 in different State Hluttaws.

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