With Myanmar Set to Vote in November, Opposition Wants a Precise Date

The main, military-backed opposition believes the ruling party can gain advantage from delaying the start of campaigning.

With Myanmar Set to Vote in November, Opposition Wants a Precise Date

Election officials in Myanmar have not set a date for November general elections to be held amid continuing armed conflict in parts of the multiethnic country and a coronavirus pandemic of unknown duration, they said Thursday, drawing criticism from parties who say the uncertainty hurts their chances.

The lack of a specific voting date has drawn criticism from the main opposition party that argues that the lack of a firm polling date will give de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) an unfair advantage in the run-up to the vote.

The NLD, the largest of some 80 parties competing nationwide for parliamentary seats, won the last general election in 2015 by a landslide and enjoys name recognition and, its critics say, the advantages of being the incumbent power.

Myint Naing, spokesman for the Union Election Commission (UEC), told a news conference in Naypyidaw on Thursday that balloting would be held in November as planned, but did not elaborate on why a specific date has not been announced.

“We haven’t changed anything about the election schedule,” he said. “So far, we are still containing COVID-19. We still have a few months to go until the election, so there is no change regarding the former schedule.”

Myint Naing added that all political parties must follow the specific guidelines to be issued by the Ministry of Health and Sports to prevent the spread of the coronavirus when election campaigning begins.

He also said that the UEC is discussing possibility of holding elections in conflict areas in northern Rakhine state and the Wa Self-Administered Zone, regions where the commission was not able to draw up voter lists for the 2015 general elections under the previous government.

Election officials still must determine whether it is safe to hold voting in northern Rakhine state and in Paletwa township of adjacent Chin state, where armed conflict between the Myanmar military and rebel Arakan Army has raged for 17 months.

More than 160,000 civilians have been displaced by fighting in northern Rakhine and in Paletwa township of neighboring Chin state, where the rebel Arakan Army is battling Myanmar forces for greater autonomy for ethnic Rakhines in the region.

“We have asked the relevant ministries, including homes affairs, defense, and the Union government, about holding elections in regions such as Rakhine or Wa,” Myint Naing said. “We haven’t gotten an answer yet.”

‘Unfair advantage’

Nearly 100 political parties will contest in the elections, with 79 fielding candidates in countrywide polls and 18 parties participating in their respective state and regional elections, according to information released by the UEC in May.

Some political party leaders have criticized the UEC for not stating a precise date for the elections, noting that the delay would affect the campaigning of parties other than the NLD.

The UEC announced the date for the 2010 elections only two months and 24 days before the Nov. 7 vote, while the date for the 2015 election was set four months before the balloting on Nov. 8.

Thein Tun Oo, spokesman for the opposition, army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), criticized the UEC for a lack of transparency and said that an announcement of a date that is too close to the elections would give the NLD an unfair advantage.

“A close announcement of the election date would allow for only a short period for campaigning for many parties other than the ruling party,” he told RFA. “Ruling party candidates have opportunities to promote themselves through public appearances, so this will give them an unfair advantage.”

NLD spokesman Monywa Aung Shin dismissed the concern that his party was benefitting from uncertainty over the election date and would enjoy an advantage from tardy scheduling of the vote.

“I don’t accept that the postponement of the election will help the ruling party,” he said. “The NLD will be ready whenever the election will be held.”Sai Ye Kyaw

Swar Myint, executive director of the People's Alliance for Credible Elections, an election monitoring organization, suggested that the UAE consult all political parties on the issue.

“They should get input from political parties on when the elections should be held,” he said. “Only one group making a decision and evaluation is very risky. Now, the commission will singlehandedly decide when the election will be held without inputs from different parties. It will draw criticism.”

Despite the UEC’s reconfirmation that the vote will take place roughly five months from now, citizens said that the date could be affected by any COVID-19 developments.

“The commission might find it difficult to announce an official date for the elections because of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak,” said Yangon resident Aye Aye Win. “It is reasonable that they are waiting for a more appropriate time to do this.”

More than 37 million people in Myanmar are eligible to vote in the upcoming elections, though the number does not yet include military personnel and their family members, who may have been transferred to different locations. It also does not include voters in the five townships of the Wa Self-Administered Zone on the border with China.

Workers prepare election paraphernalia at Myanmar's Union Election Commission headquarters in Naypyidaw, Oct. 27, 2015, in preparation for Nov. 8 general elections.
Workers prepare election paraphernalia at Myanmar's Union Election Commission headquarters in Naypyidaw, Oct. 27, 2015, in preparation for Nov. 8 general elections. Credit: AFP
Nomination process begins

The NLD and other major parties, meanwhile, already have begun the candidate nomination process for the general elections.

NLD spokesman Monywa Aung Shin told RFA on Wednesday that township campaign committees and five party members who are also community leaders will consider candidates favored by local residents when making the final selections.

“After they have a candidate list, they have to send it to the regional offices, and then to the NLD’s central office,” he said. “The CEC [Central Executive Committee] will choose the candidates. It’s the NLD’s policy.”

The NLD said its candidates will contest everywhere in the country.

Thein Tun Oo, spokesman of the army-backed USDP, said party officials also have begun to screen candidates to find ones who are “loyal to our citizens, steadfast in principles, and serve the country and the people.”

Aye Nu Sein a member of the Central Executive Committee of the Arakan National Party (ANP), the dominant political party in Rakhine state, told RFA that it was still uncertain where the balloting could be held under conflict conditions.

“We don’t even know in which townships in Rakhine we can hold the elections,” he said. “We have lots of IDPs due to the fighting in northern Rakhine … and where we can hold the elections there. So, given the situation, we can’t work on choosing candidates.”

Sai Leik, general secretary of and spokesman for the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), said his party will give priority to women, young people, and locals in Shan state when choosing candidates.

“Moreover, the candidates should have good moral behavior and be accepted by the people,” he said.

Reported by Kyaw Lwin Oo and Thet Su Sung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung and Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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Authorities to Destroy Uyghur Cemetery in Xinjiang Capital

The graveyard is the latest of dozens in the region that have been razed in recent years.

Authorities to Destroy Uyghur Cemetery in Xinjiang Capital

Authorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have announced plans to destroy a Uyghur cemetery in the capital Urumqi, marking the latest of dozens razed in recent years as part of a campaign experts have said is aimed at controlling members of the ethnic group.

On May 22, a document bearing stamps from the bureaus of public affairs, building affairs, and land management was posted informing residents that the cemetery in Urumqi’s Bulaqtagh (in Chinese, Shuimogou) district would be dug up and moved on June 10.

According to the document, which was circulated widely on Chinese social media platforms, those with family members buried in the cemetery must register for the removal of the remains of their loved ones.

RFA’s Uyghur Service recently spoke with a Han Chinese woman at the Urumqi Ethnic Affairs Office who confirmed that the registration period for the cemetery was “already underway,” although the exhumation of remains had yet to begin.

“We have not started relocating [remains],” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

“The announcement was published by the Urumqi Municipal Government. We are registering the families with tombs.”

The woman said her office had made provisions for family members of the deceased who are based outside of the capital to designate a representative to register for the relocation on their behalf.

However, when asked what the reason for the relocation was, she hung up the phone.

RFA also spoke with a Uyghur official from the Bulaqtagh Muslim Burial Affairs Office who said that people had until the end of May to register for the move by using a photo of the grave’s headstone and the number assigned to the plot.

“We’re registering people—it’s been about a week already,” said the official, who also declined to be named.

“You’ll take a photo of the number and bring it in, and we’ll get you registered. We’ll let you know about everything else after you come in.”

According to the official, workers will be assigned to move the remains, but she was unable to provide details about how the process would take place or where they would be relocated.

She also claimed that it was “a government decision” to move the cemetery, but did not know whether there were any plans to build something in its current location.

“We’re only taking care of registration, so there are a lot of things we don’t know” she said.

Recent razing

Plans to relocate the cemetery come one month after reports that a graveyard considered sacred by Uyghurs that was razed by authorities last year in the XUAR’s Hotan (Hetian) city has been paved over and turned into a car park.

Rian Thum, a professor of history at the University of Nottingham in Britain, had posted a time lapse view of the Sultanim Cemetery to Twitter based on satellite imagery from Google Earth, which shows grave plots being gradually being plowed over with dirt beginning in 2019 and a parking lot being erected in the western portion of the site.

At the time, he said destroying graveyards is part of a bid by authorities to control the wider Uyghur population, which views the sites as “a part of the historical landscape of the Uyghur region,” regardless of their religious significance.

It also follows an investigation by Agence France-Presse which in October revealed that at least 45 cemeteries in the XUAR had been destroyed since 2014—30 of which were razed since 2017.

Many of the sites were transformed into parks or parking lots, while others had remained empty lots, AFP said. Reporters said they had seen human remains left at several sites.

Speaking to RFA, a Uyghur in exile who grew up in Urumqi’s Bulaqtagh district and lived there with their family until 2015 called the cemetery marked for a June 10 relocation “particularly important” for Uyghurs from the area.

“This is a sacred Muslim cemetery for Uyghurs from Bulaqtagh, [and neighboring] Tikquduq and Ayotkel to bury their dead,” the source said.

The local government had closed the cemetery to new burials in 2014, they said, based on the claim that it had grown so large it was encroaching on land marked for official use.

Reported by Mihray Abdilim for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Elise Anderson and Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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