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Myanmar: General Elections went off Smoothly on 8th despite Army/Covid Threats:

Paper No. 6700                  Dated 9-Nov-2020           
By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan
 
General Elections for a new Government at  the Union and State Levels went off peacefully amidst the twin threats of an Army Coup and the Spread of the Wuhan Virus.
 
People voted enthusiastically from 6  AM from many of the booths and in some cases had assembled even before 6 to vote.  
 
In all, there were 5643 candidates for 1119 Constituencies both at the national and regional level legislatures and in all 92 political parties contested.   Of the 92, surprisingly a majority- 55 parties were from the ethnic regions.
 
Barring a few incidents that included impersonation and minor scuffles, the election day went off peacefully. Prior to elections too,  electioneering was peaceful except in a few cases where the Army Proxy USDP supporters were aggressive.  One death was reported on October 24 when a 38-year old man was beaten to death by USDP supporters when he tried in intervene in a scuffle where the NLD volunteers were being beaten up. 
 
The largest Observer Group the PACE- People’s Alliance for Credible Elections had not reported any untoward incident or misdoing in the elections. The Executive Director of PACE, Sai Ye Swar Mint said that 99 percent of the polling stations had all the necessary materials.  Despite the Pandemic (Read Wuhan Virus) 84 percent of the polling booths began voting between 6 and 6.30 AM.  There was a bold display at every polling station of the guide lines for the Covid 19.  In 95 percent of the cases PACE Observers were allowed to freely, visit the booths and even in the other 5 percent, the delay was in getting permission from the authorities that did not arrive in time.
 
It looks that the arrangements were made as efficiently possible and a neutral Observer Group like PACE was allowed free entry into the polling stations just to avoid any criticism from the Army whose Chief a few days ago openly issued two statements declaring that the Army would be very cautious in accepting the results as they did earlier in 2015 if the elections were not free and fair and if the Election Commission committs ‘missteps’
 
The Army’s open threat to say the least, was most outrageous.  The Chief openly referred to the incompetence of the Civil Government and that of the Union Election Commission of failing to rectify the voters lists and other minor irregularities.
 
The Spokesman  for the NLD the Ruling Party Dr. Myo Myunt rightly said that the Army should do the job it is supposed to do and not get involved in other matters. He referred to Article 26 (a) of the Constitution that bans civil servants from party politics and that the Police and the Army are also civil servants.  
 
The President’s Office also came out with a statement that agreed with the stand taken by the NLD. 
 
Fortunately, on the election day the Army Chief came out with a statement that he will abide by the outcome of the Elections.  It is not clear as to what made him issue two outrageous statements literally threatening to take over the Government if the elections were not free and fair. The Constitution does not give him the right and the Army drafted 2008 Constitution has enough provisions even otherwise that allow Army’s presence embedded in both home and military affairs.
 
Here are some observations in the run up to the Elections.
 
1.  The euphoria that was seen in the last 2015 elections was conspicuously missing.  
 
2. It is to some extent true that because of the overall threat of spread of Covid 19 Virus and the restrictions imposed thereby caused inconvenience and  hampered active electioneering- but that was inevitable.
 
3.  Many parties urged postponement of the elections in view of the pandemic and restrictions imposed.  For example large stretches of territory were excluded from voting.  The Candidates could not move out of their regions and have to undergo quarantine in the new places.  Not more than 30 persons could gather. Yet the Government and the Union Election Commission insisted on going ahead with the elections.
 
4.  The reason for the Government for sticking to the election date is perhaps of the fear that once postponement is accepted, any future Government can postpone elections on some ground other citing a precedent!
 
5. The challenge this time was that there were 5 million new voters when compared to the last elections.  One could assess after the results are known as to how the youths have viewed the half-hearted transition to democracy and whether Suu Kyi has continued to maintain her charisma even among the young voters.
 
6.  It should be of interest to know how the ethnic groups have fared.  As said earlier, a majority of the parties 55 out of 92 are from ethnic minority regions.  There is a view that the ethnic votes may not dramatically change the outcome of the Bamar led elections.  The reasons are many but the foremost one is that they are not united.  They also should shake off the stranglehold of China and this can be done only if the next Government is generous enough to give the minorities more autonomy.  The war where the Army is strafing and bombing the civilian areas in Rakhine State should stop.  A cease-fire in that region should be the first step.
 
7.  One curious aspect we have seen is that the leading political party the NLD has not been encouraging the youths and the students.  Soon it will become a party of the “oldies” unless Suu Kyi takes it as a mission to encourage youths to join the party.
 
8.  Whatever be the outcome, judging from the statements and actions of the Army, it looks that the Army will continue to have a firm control on the Government with 25 percent of the seats in the national legislature and holding on to the posts of Defence, Home and border management.  The ethnic conflict will also continue unless some bold steps are taken both by the Army and newly elected civilian Government.
 
As to the outcome, it looks that Suu Kyi and her NLD may lead again. But will she get a majority on her own to form the Government as it happened last time? We will have to wait and see.
 
 
 
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