Polls will not take place in many NMSP-controlled villages, says Union Election Commission
October 20, 2015
The Union Election Commission (UEC) has announced that polls for the upcoming general election will not take place in many New Mon State Party (NMSP) controlled villages in Kyainnseikyi Township, Karen State, and Ye Township, Mon State, due to concerns over security.
So far, polls are slated to be cancelled in up to 50 NMSP-controlled villages in Karen State’s Kyainnseikyi Township, including 10 villages in Three Pagodas Pass Sub-Township and 34 village tracts in Constituency No.11 Meanwhile, in Mon State’s Ye Township, polls will not take place in 10 village tracts in the west of the township, nor in 10 villages in the township’s south.
Estimates suggest that in total this may mean that around 50,000 Mon villagers from NMSP-controlled areas in Ye and Kyainnseikyi townships will be unable to vote. In previous elections in 2010 around 23,000 Mon and Karen people in Kyainnseikyi Township were unable to vote due to similar cancellations.
Daw Kay Thi Khine, an election candidate for the All Mon Regions Democratic Party (AMDP), gave her thoughts on the UEC’s decision, “Our Mon people will lose the right to vote, and politicians registered as candidates [in the affected areas] will lose voters from these constituencies. In particular, 25,000 Mon people from 34 village tracts under Kyainnseikyi Township Constituency No. 11 in Karen State will lose their chance to vote”.
Locals have expressed confusion at the cancellation of polling in their villages, questioning the UEC’s claim that security is not good enough for elections to be safely held. While the areas concerned are held by Mon armed group the NMSP, the group has had a ceasefire with Burmese forces almost continuously since 1995.
Min Zaw Tun, member of a Mon youth group in Taung Bout Village, Kyainnseikyi Township, explained, “It is peaceful here and there is no more fighting. If the authorities put a ballot box in our village it would be easy to vote […] It is not clear to us why the government has not come to make a voting list [to register voters in the village] and why we do not have the chance to vote”.
Nai Zay, another villager from Kyainnseikyi Township, expressed similar feelings, “Even though the UEC announced that there must be a free and fair election in Burma in 2015, in Mon villages under New Mon State party control villagers can’t vote, for reasons of lacking rule of law and poor security […] In reality, [the affected villages in Kyainnseikyi Township] are peaceful and quiet. But, despite this, the government did not come to collect the voter list and they haven’t built a polling station”.
With claims of poor security questionable, poor transparency in UEC decision-making has led many Mon locals to feel that the decision to cancel polling in certain NMSP-controlled areas may be politically motivated. Some have voiced suspicions that poll cancellations may be some kind of government power play, linked to a desire to deliberately exclude NMSP-controlled areas from the vote, under the guise of ‘security concerns’. Nai Phin, a political observer based on the Thai-Burma border, commented, “If the area was controlled by the government, then the authorities would say that it had rule of law and security, and they would allow the locals to vote”.
Such feelings have been exacerbated by inconsistencies in decision-making, where polling has been cancelled in some villages, while plans for polling continue in neighboring villages.
Meanwhile, some residents have been led to feel that Mon villagers are being unfairly disenfranchised and specifically targeted over and above members of other local ethnic groups. Nai Dana Aung, an AMDP representative from Three Pagodas Pass Sub-Township, Karen State, explained, “In Hti Pa Doh, a Karen ethnic village, which is two miles away from Baladon Phike Mon village, the villagers can vote in the election. But [residents of] Mon villages around Hti Pa Do won’t be able to vote”.
Burma’s nationwide polls are set to take place on November 8, 2015, and are expected by international observers to be the country’s most credible polls in many decades.