The people of Burma will vote in the country’s national elections on Sunday November 8.
In the build-up to the election international onlookers were concerned that a National League for Democracy (NLD) candidate was stabbed with a machete at a campaign event in Yangon, many citizens had been removed from voter lists, religious intolerance in Rakhine State and that many polling stations had been closed in ethnic areas.
Speculation of what will happen in Burma’s political landscape after the election is of great concern to voters. Voters are well aware of what happened when the NLD won by a massive landslide in 1990 and it resulted in the military ordering its soldiers onto the streets. The same questions are being asked – will the NLD achieve a landslide victory like in the 1990 elections and if it does will government allow it to form government?
Also of great concern to ethnic voters is how will the current flawed peace process and ceasefire talks evolve when there is still widespread conflict in ethnic states?
Despite their concerns many citizens are looking forward in hope to electoral change in the coming election as reflected in views on social media forums such as Facebook.
Voters’ in remote areas claim their hopes are not so bright as local commentators feel that the government is manipulating the polls.
U Soe Thein and U Aung Min, the incumbent Minister of the President’s Office, who were victorious in the 2010 with their election strategic plan have moved to contest seats in ‘winnable’ ethnic constituencies.
U Aung Min was elected in 2010 as the Taungoo Township, Pegu Division candidate. U Soe Thein was elected in the Kyun Su Township, Tannitharyi Division.
However, in the coming election, both ministers will compete as individual candidate in Karenni State. U Aung Min, the government’s chief peace talks negotiator will compete as an independent candidate for the Upper House in the Number 7 Constituency in Karenni State. Minister U Soe Thein has chosen to run for an upper house parliamentary seat in constituency number 9, as an independent candidate.
Why they chose Karenni State is a puzzle, as neither are natives or resident of the state? What advantages will they gain by competing in Karenni State?
Local people think the two politicians have decided to compete in Karenni State to take advantage of the low eligibility of voters for the 34 seats in the lower, upper and state parliaments. It is estimated that there are as many as 225 candidates who will compete in the state.
Karenni (Kayah) State has over 200,000 voters and 229 voting stations. Within these voting stations, 25 are under the control of the army – nearly 32 stations will have security provided by the Burma Army. It is still unresolved if international and local observers will be allowed to monitor these stations on election-day.
Election watch groups have been warned to closely watch and monitor the situation in the remote Karenni State.
Outside political observers point out that there are a lot of factors that allow for ‘dirty tricks’ – the state’s literacy rate is low, many villages have failed to publicly announce the voter list and numerous mistakes have took place with the voters list that have seen thousands of voter’s names go ‘missing’, and have yet to be corrected.
Political parties are complaining that they cannot get their policies to the people in the State because they have to focus on voter education. They complain that villagers from remote areas have been told nothing about how to vote.
A closer look at the constituency Aung Min is planning to run in reveals it has 4,000 voters. The township has a large military presence with two battalions under Division 55 and a battalion under the Regional Operations Commands. There is a government militia, Border Guard Force based in the township.
Other candidates say that these can give U Aung Min a upper hand over other candidates. The Minister has taken a translator with his as he cannot talked directly to the Karenni.
A report in the state based newspaper, The Kantarawaddy Times, reported that U Aung Min has said his victory is assured when by told the Karenni Nationalities Progressive Party not to worry about the peace process because he will get the Minster’s position again when a new government is formed after Sunday’s election.
U Soe Thein’s constituency, Bawhlakhe Township has an estimated 6,797 voters. It is estimated that a 1,300 of these voters are from three army battalions, Border Guard Force and government employees. Many residents from other parts of the State claim that Bawhlakhe is a ‘government town’ as it is under the military control and has many government employees.
People claim that this is an indicator that some officials from the government will use this leverage to keep power.
Locals said it is time that the Election Union Commission was overhauled and time was spent time trying to educate citizens about their voting responsibilities and in getting the voter lists corrected and updated to allow people to take part in the elections..