Rakhine parties cry foul as voting allowed in villages with heavy military presence but banned elsewhere 

The decision by election officials to proceed with voting in areas near military camps in Rakhine state has given the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) an unfair advantage, other parties have said. 

The Union Election Commission (UEC) announced on Tuesday that polling would be allowed in seven village tracts in Ann and Kyaukphyu townships even though the election is cancelled across large swathes of Rakhine state.

Candidates from Rakhine parties fear this will hand easy wins to their opponents from the USDP, the military’s proxy party, because large numbers of soldiers are stationed in these areas. 

“Excluding other constituencies while allowing the election to be held in a constituency where there are military personnel is pretty unfair,” said Soe Thein, an Arakan League for Democracy (ALD) candidate running in Ann for a seat in the state parliament.

“It infringes on a citizen’s right to vote and affects the contesting candidates too,” he added.

There are more than ten military battalions, including the Western Regional Command, stationed around four village tracts in Ann where voting has been allowed to proceed.  

Soldiers, other military personnel and their families there make up thousands of eligible voters who are likely to support the USDP, Soe Thein said. 

Ethnically Rakhine and Chin people live in 18 villages within the four tracts in Ann, but they are outnumbered by military personnel and their family members, said Htun Htun Naing, the Pyithu Hluttaw candidate there for the Arakan National Party (ANP). 

“It’s more difficult with more military voters. There could be vote splitting among candidates [from Rakhine parties],” he said.

Phoe San, an ANP candidate for state parliament in Kyaukphyu, said he also feared the vote would be split between Rakhine parties while soldiers would vote as a bloc for the USDP. 

“There are predominantly Rakhine villages here but opinions are very divided because there are three Rakhine parties,” he said. “The military voters will just vote for the USDP,” he said.

Three village tracts in Kyaukphyu are home to the Danyawaddy naval base, the Taung Mawgyi naval base, and Infantry Battalions 542 and 543.

Independent candidate Mya Than, who is running in Ann’s constituency No.1 and is deputy speaker of the Rakhine state parliament, said he did not think the military voters would cause trouble for other candidates. 

“Some people are disillusioned and think these votes will only go to the USDP,” he said. “That just isn’t true because there’s something the commander-in-chief general Min Aung Hlaing said. He urged people to vote for qualified candidates, so I just hope the voters decide based on the candidates.” 

Out of 17 townships in Rakhine, only Thandwe, Gwa, Munaung and Ramree will have full voting on November 8.  

Ann, Taungup, Kyaukphyu and Sittwe will only have voting in some areas while the election is cancelled in the remaining nine townships.

The UEC said earlier this month it would not be possible to hold a free and fair vote in large areas of Rakhine because of the conflict between the military and the Arakan Army. 

It also cancelled voting in areas of Kachin, Karen, Mon, and Shan states as well as Bago region.

Unless the UEC reverses any of the cancellations, there will be a total of 36 empty seats nationwide after next month’s poll.

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