Voting has been cancelled in nearly 600 village tracts nationwide, mostly in Kachin and Shan states, the Union Election Commission ruled yesterday, declaring that the lack of security would not allow for free and fair elections.
The number of areas deemed unfit for elections represents a sizeable increase over the 478 village tracts where voting was cancelled in the 2010 elections, despite the priority on promoting peace set by President U Thein Sein’s government since taking office in 2011. The UEC did not provide a figure on the total number of voters to be excluded from the polls, but it would almost certainly be in the millions.
The collapse in 2011 of the ceasefire between government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has led to widespread clashes and the displacement of some 100,000 people. The UEC said 211 village tracts in Kachin State 11 townships would not have elections, compared with 68 village tracts cancelled in 2010.
Polling was cancelled in five entire townships in Shan State under the control of armed ethnic groups close to the border with China, meaning that the lower house of parliament will be left with five empty seats, one more than in 2010. Voting was also ruled out in over 50 village tracts in Shan State outside the five townships.
Voting was also ruled out in 41 village tracts in Bago Region and 94 in Kayin State.
Election rules give the UEC, led by former general U Tin Aye, the authority to cancel voting in areas affected by natural disasters or lack of security.
The five whole townships in Shan State excluded from the polls were named as Pangsang, Panwaing, Mong Maw and Nar Phan, which fall under the control of the United Wa State Army, and Mong La, controlled by the National Democratic Alliance Army. Both have close ties to China and have refused to join the nationwide ceasefire agreement to be signed by eight ethnic armed organisations with the government tomorrow.
Electoral officials in Kachin State, which has a total of 764,000 registered voters, sought to argue that the cancellations would not have a significant impact on voting for a total of 70 seats in the union and state parliaments.
“Most of the areas [cancelled] are under KIA control. Depending on the stability of constituencies, the number of polling booths can change. But I think it is not likely to change,” said U Kyaw Moe, a member of the state election sub-commission.
But Manam Tu Ja, the ethnic Kachin leader of the Kachin State Democracy Party, was not happy with the decision.
“We have less chance to get many votes. These areas are where Kachin parties are stronger. The decision has a real impact on Kachin parties in the elections,” he said.
However, the election law states that the commission’s decision is final.
“We cannot do anything but accept the commission’s decision,” Manam Tu Ja added.
Speaking to The Myanmar Times, U Thawdar Nyein, secretary of the Kayin State election sub-commission, said elections were cancelled in village tracts in seven townships beyond government control.
“When we displayed voter lists in some village tracts in Kyainnseikkyi township, the New Mon State Party told us not to do,” he said. “Even the government’s executive control could not reach those areas, and nor could the election sub-commission.”
Bago Region had no village tracts ruled out in 2010, but instability has crossed the regional boundary with Kayin State, affecting 12 village tracts in Kyaukkyi township and 29 in Shwegyin.
“Since previous elections, those villages have no longer been inhabited by residents. In the past, due to insurgency in the areas, villagers fled to nearby villages. When we collected voter lists, we learned that elections in those villages cannot be held,” said U Maung Maung Kyi, chair of Kyaukkyi township election sub-commission.
He blamed the lack of security on the Karen National Union, the largest of the eight groups intending to sign the ceasefire accord tomorrow.
Bawnawkhe village tract in Bilin township was the only place in Mon State to have voting cancelled.