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Hours after proposed delay, Myanmar says elections to be held on time

Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party is opposing the polling delay. Photograph: Khin Maung Win/AP

By Oliver Holmes
October 13, 2015

Commission had suggested postponement amid flood and landslide fears, raising fears of military interference

Myanmar’s election will go ahead held next month as planned, hours after the electoral commission had suggested the vote could be delayed over concerns that flooding might prevent people from making it to the polls.

The general election is Myanmar’s first since moving away from half a century of military rule in 2011 and expected to produce a strong showing for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

“If the election date is delayed, there could be some consequences. For that reason, the election commission has decided the election date will be on 8 November 2015, as scheduled,” the election commission said in a statement released late on Tuesday evening.

The commission had gathered the country’s top political parties to a meeting on Tuesday morning to discuss the matter, which swiftly raised concerns over interference by the country’s entrenched military rulers.

The NLD said it opposed the delay but local media said the ruling Union Solidarity and Development party and most of the other major parties supported the idea.

In 1990, the army regime ignored a huge election victory by the NLD and put its leaders in prison. Aung San Suu Kyi, 70, has spent 15 years since then under house arrest.

The NLD, which boycotted a 2010 poll citing irregularities, is also expected to win this year’s election. In a 2012 byelection, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won 43 of 44 seats it contested. 

The Union Election Commission (UEC) said it would cancel voting in villages in conflict-hit ethnic areas of the country owing to security concerns, an additional threat to an inclusive election. The government is trying to reach a ceasefire agreement with multiple insurgent groups. The UEC said elections could not be held in more than 400 village areas, mostly in Kachin, Shan and Karen state. 

Senior NLD member U Win Htein, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, was quoted in the Myanmar Times as saying he “expected the UEC to issue a formal announcement in coming days confirming the delay”.

The UEC chairman, Tin Aye, told reporters after the two-hour meeting that the election might be delayed. He did not say if it would apply only to areas affected by the flooding or if voting would be delayed in all constituencies. “Why don’t you … just wait until the statement is released, it could be nationwide too,” he said. 

Floods and landslides this summer have killed more than 100 people. The UN says a million people have been affected by the floods, which destroyed 15,000 houses. Myanmar’s rainy season ends this month. 

Aung San Suu Kyi said last week she planned to lead the country if her party was victorious, despite a ban on her serving as president, a bold statement to the country’s military rulers who remain paranoid over the NLD’s domestic and international popularity. 

A constitutional provision excludes those with foreign children from the office. Aung San Suu Kyi’s late husband was British and she has two British sons. 

Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace prize laureate, has called the UEC chairman a “bosom pal” of Myanmar’s president, Thein Sein, and warned the public to be “vigilant, cautious, careful and very, very brave” in the weeks before the election.

“I doubt very much things will happen exactly as in 1990,” she said. “What we are afraid of is that the run-up to the elections will not be what it should be.” 

Amnesty International said in a report last week, Myanmar: the Land of Make Believe, that there were at least 91 prisoners of conscience behind bars. “As elections on 8 November draw near, the authorities are sliding back into old ways – harassing and arresting peaceful activists simply for disagreeing with, or criticising the government,” it said. 

In August, the military dismissed parliament speaker Shwe Mann, an ally of Aung San Suu Kyi. The unexpected purge shocked observers, who warned the generals would take action if they felt threatened.

The UEC ruled that candidates were forbidden from criticising the security forces during their allocated 15-minute speeches on state media. At the same time, the government has promised credible, transparent and inclusive elections, and the UEC invited a team from the EU to observe the polls for the first time. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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