Myanmar begins electoral campaign amid armed conflicts and pandemic

By Mratt Kyaw Thu and Carlos Sardiña Galache

Yangon/Bangkok, Sep 9 (efe-epa).- Marked by restrictions imposed due to the pandemic, Myanmar officially began Tuesday the electoral campaign for the general elections in November, in which popular leader Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to win another term, despite the unresolved conflicts in the country.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner, who had retained great popularity in the country despite convictions abroad for the repression against the Rohingya minority during her mandate, decided not to hold the first campaign event scheduled for Tuesday at the request of the Ministry of Health.

Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), asked her supporters to hang the party flag in front of their homes during a campaign in which the Electoral Commission has banned rallies of more than fifty people and any kind of ceremony in districts confined by COVID-19.

After two months with no local transmission, Myanmar has been experiencing an outbreak in the last two weeks and recorded 1,518 cases and 8 deaths.

The two main electoral promises of the NLD are “to establish a federal union with equal rights for all citizens” and “to find the root causes of internal conflicts and to maintain a political dialogue based on mutual respect in order to achieve a lasting peace”, in reference to the wars with ethno-nationalist armed groups that have lasted for decades.

Suu Kyi has made peace one of her fundamental objectives since she came to power in 2016, and has continued the process started by her predecessor, former General Thein Sein, who took power in 2011 after almost five decades of military dictatorship, but the successive peace conferences organized by the leader have yielded little results.

Only two small armed groups have signed the truce during Suu Kyi’s tenure and the fourth round of the peace process, held in August, concluded without any new signature and was boycotted by several guerrillas.

One of the biggest obstacles to the peace process is the autonomy of the Army which was placed outside the control of the civilian government by the 2008 Constitution designed by the military junta then in power.

The Constitution also reserves a quarter of the seats in the Parliament for military personnel appointed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, who also controls three ministries: Defense, Interior and Border Affairs.

For these reasons, although the army-backed political party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), loses in November elections, the military personnel will still have their share of power assured.

The USDP lost in 2015 elections, obtaining a total of 41 seats while the NLD obtained 349 seats.

The most intense conflict currently takes place in the state of Rakhine between the Myanmar Armed Forces and the guerrilla of the Arakan Army (AA), designated “terrorist organization” in February.

The conflict flared up in January 2019 and has already displaced almost 100,000 civilians, according to UN data.

Arakan was the only territory in which the NLD lost in the 2015 elections, as the Arakan National Party (ANP) won the majority of the votes.

The party demands the autonomy of the state and, like the AA, represents the interests of the majority ethnic group in the state, the Rakhine, predominantly Buddhists.

However, some people doubt whether the elections will be held this year in the state.

“We cannot say for sure if the elections will be held in Arakan. This is because we cannot go out and campaign in our districts, while government officials can move freely showing off their works,” Khine Moe Tun, the director of the ANP campaign, told EFE.

The people excluded in these elections are the members of another ethnic group originating from Arakan: the Rohingya, whose citizenship was taken away in the early 1990s and who has been subjected for decades to a regime of discrimination after being considered as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite living in the Myanmar for generations.

The Rohingya, predominantly Muslim in a country with a Buddhist majority, were unable to vote in the 2015 elections and this time they will not be able to vote either.

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