Yangon, Myanmar, Oct 17 (efe-epa).- Myanmar’s poll body has canceled voting for the upcoming national elections in several conflict areas across the country, citing security reasons.
The authorities canceled voting in more than half of the electoral districts of the restive western Rakhine state, where the Myanmar Army is fighting the ethnic-separatist rebels of the Arakan Army.
The state, also known as Arakan, is home to the Rohingya minority group that was subjected to a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign by the military and forced out of their settlements.
The cancellation has dealt a major blow to the opposition Arakan National Party, the largest ethnic-nationalist group in parliament, and the largest regional party in the Rakhine State.
“We are, like, running in the longest desert, no ending, no direction,” U Oo Hla Saw, an Arakan National Party (ANP) lawmaker, told EFE.
The ANP won 18 seats in the 2015 elections, the majority in the Rakhine districts, where the poll body has canceled the voting.
U Sein Chit, a candidate of the Arakán Front Party for the Thandwe district, told EFE in a statement that the exercise “can no longer be called an election anymore.”
“We have no idea how it will go with (only) four townships with very small constituencies (voting).”
Other states affected by the cancellation are Kachin, Kayin, Bago, Mon, and Shan, with complete or partial cancellations in a total of 40 electoral districts where ethnic minority armed groups often clash with the army or private militias protected by the military.
The Electoral Commission, in a statement last night, said it was not in a position to ensure “free and fair elections” in the areas.
Earlier during an election campaign in Arakan, three politicians of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) were kidnapped by an armed group. The abducted politicians remain missing.
During the 2015 elections, voting was also suspended in several conflict areas, but there was no suspension in the Rakhine state.
NLD chief Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of the country, is contesting from the Kawhmu constituency.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate won a landslide in the first so-called free elections in 2015.
Suu Kyi, 75, is currently the state counselor, a post that was created for her and effectively means she acts as a prime minister with powers that exceed the presidency. She is also the foreign affairs minister.
The NLD is a clear favorite in the elections, and Suu Kyi could lead the next government.
Some 1,117 candidates are in the fray.
It will be the third election in Myanmar since the transition from a military dictatorship towards democracy in 2010.
The military, however, still wields significant power in the country, and a quarter of parliamentary seats are reserved for lawmakers appointed directly by the army chief.
Suu Kyi has come under intense scrutiny from the international community, given her support for the military in its 2017 clampdown on the mainly Muslim Rohingya minority Rakhine.