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Radio Free Asia

Myanmar Army Urges Rakhine, Shan Elections Before New Parliament Convenes on Feb. 1

2021-01-07 -- Myanmar's military, backing a demand of a rebel army amid a fragile cease-fire, called on Thursday for elections to be held by Feb. 1 in strife-torn parts of Rakhine and Shan states where voting had been cancelled before the Nov. 8 general elections for security reasons.

The elections should be held before newly-elected lawmakers are sworn in for the second Union parliament controlled by the National League for Democracy (NLD), and meet for the first time at the beginning of February, the military said in a statement.

Voting was cancelled entirely in nine Rakhine state townships, and in more than 100 wards of other townships, leaving 1.2 million out of 1.6 million registered voters in the state unable to cast ballots.

The military and the rebel Arakan Army (AA) announced a temporary truce nearly two months ago so that make-up voting could be held in areas of Rakhine state where the two sides have engaged in clashes in a two-year-long war. Myanmar forces recently extended their cease-fire to Jan. 31.

After the November elections, the military unveiled a permanent Peace Talks Committee to negotiate with rebel armies, and voiced support for the AA's call to hold elections by the end of 2020.

Nearly a week ago, the AA released three NLD members it abducted in October as they campaigned in Rakhine's Taungup township ahead of the elections, letting them go following negotiations. The same day, the AA also freed three government soldiers captured in late 2019.

The Rakhine State Election Subcommission has said that it is ready to hold the elections, but that the Union Election Commission (UEC) has yet to announce whether voting will be held.

Myanmar President Win Myint urged "relevant organizations" and "individuals" to work together in order to hold the elections in Rakhine state in an Independence Day message on Monday, though he did not specify the parties.

Before general elections two months ago, the UEC decided not to hold voting in nine Rakhine townships, including Myebon, Mrauk-U, Pauktaw, Ponnagyun, Rathedaung, Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Kyauktaw, and Minbya.

The UEC also suspended voting in six townships in Shan state, including Mongla, Pangsang, Namphan, Mongmao, Pangwaun, and Mongyai — territories controlled or operated by ethnic armies.

Filing 'will not succeed'

In another dispute about voting, experts said Thursday that a case against the president, three other government officials, and 15 UEC officials by two military-backed political parties will likely be thrown out by Myanmar's Supreme Court at an initial hearing on Jan. 29.

The opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the Democratic Party of National Politics (DNP) said Tuesday that they filed a joint complaint with the Supreme Court accusing the government and national election authorities of electoral fraud.

The NLD swept the Nov. 8 elections by securing 920 of 1,117 contested seats in the Union, state, and regional legislatures, while the USDP won only 71 seats nationwide. The DNP did not win any seats.

Yangon-based rights attorney Kyee Myint said that the Application of Writ the two parties filed with the Supreme Court would not be successful because the 2008 constitution mandates that the UEC's decisions are final.

Another statute, the Law Relating to the Pyithu Hluttaw, or the lower house of parliament, mandates that no court can put the UEC on trial, while another statute provides immunity for polling station officers at all electoral commission levels from being charged," he said.

"So, I would say this Application of Writ to take action against the existing laws will not succeed," Kyee Myint said.

The 2008 constitution allows citizens to submit Applications of Writ with the Supreme Court over alleged violations of citizenship rights due to government misconduct.

RFA could not reach the UEC for comment.

Aung Kyi Nyunt, an upper house lawmaker and member of the NLD's policy committee, said that Article 215 of the constitution prohibits courts and parliaments from trying the president.

"Based on this alone, this application will not succeed," he said.

'NLD wants to move on'

Political analyst Aung Thu Nyein suggested that the USDP does not want to concede it lost the elections and is seeking proof of electoral fraud along with the military and the DNP.

"As far as I see it, the NLD wants to move on as it won the election by a landslide, while the losing parties and the military want proof of fraud and irregularities in the elections," he said. "The losing side does not want to honor the results."

RFA contacted Zaw Htay, spokesman for the President's Office, and military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun for comment, but neither one responded.

The USDP has reportedly filed more than 1,000 cases of alleged election fraud with the UEC and nearly 200 cases with the police. The UEC said it is still investigating disputes over election outcomes and warned political parties and other organizations not to release any information that contradicts official election results.

Reported by Thet Su Aung for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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