Deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party and other groups in Myanmar’s pro-democracy camp are shunning a meeting on Friday of an election commission set up by the military junta that overthrew the government, with one party condemning the army regime for having “rejected the democratic path chosen by the people.”
The coup led by military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing that arrested Aung San Suu Kyi and ousted her National League for Democracy (NLD) government on Feb. 1, citing electoral fraud, said it would hold elections in a year.
However, the junta has been widely rejected in the multi1ethnic country of 54 million people, drawing widespread street protests, teacher and doctor strikes, and armed resistance in several ethnic states in border areas. The army has killed more than 800 civilians in heavy-handed crackdowns on protesters.
The military’s claims of electoral fraud in the November 2020 election that was swept by the NLD, never backed by evidence, were rejected Monday by an election monitoring group that confirmed the integrity of the vote.
The State Administration Council, the formal name of the junta, has set up a new Union Election Commission (UEC) after disbanding the previous one, and is pushing ahead with a plan to change Myanmar’s electoral system to one that gives the army proxy party that has fared poorly in past elections a better shot.
At a first meeting in the capital Naypyidaw on Feb. 26, the army-installed UEC called for replacing the current first-past-the-post voting system with one based on proportional representation, a proposal that was discussed after the 2010 and 2015 elections.
The first meeting was attended by the military proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and 52 minor parties, but the NLD and 38 other parties stayed away.
The USDP, made up of retired army officers, won the 2010 vote as a result of a boycott by the NLD, but lost badly in 2015 and fared even worse in 2020. The
The USDP refused to accept the results of the 2020 elections in which it won only 71 parliamentary seats against 396 for the NLD in both houses of parliament. Its calls for a new election set the stage for the military takeover.
In a report issued Monday, the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), an election monitoring group that observed the 2020 vote, dismissed the military's claims of fraud and voting irregularities, calling the polls were largely representative of the will of the Myanmar people.
“While ANFREL observers reported some inconsistencies in the implementation of polling procedures, the integrity of the vote was not found to be affected,” the report said.
The elections were not as free and fair as the 2015 vote on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, internet service shutdowns in Rakhine and Chin states, and the postponement of voting in constituencies in conflict zones, it said.
A proportional representation system, which allots seats based on the percentage of votes received, is considered more favorable to smaller parties than first-past-the-post voting in which the winner takes all irrespective of vote share.
The USDP, which might have fared better under proportional representation, and other pro-military or small political parties, say they will attend Friday’s conference while the NLD, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), and other pro-democracy parties are skipping the gathering.
The NLD and ethnic political parties that won seats in the last elections oppose a proportional representation system run under the 2008 constitution, written by a previous military junta that ruled the country, that appoints uniformed military officers to a quarter of the seats in the national, state, and regional parliaments.
RFA was unable to reach NLD party members because most top officials and elected lawmakers are being detained by the military regime or they have fled to areas of the country controlled by ethnic armed groups.
But several parties in the democratic camp were emphatic in rejecting the electoral meeting.
“The SNLD’s policy is that we don’t accept the military regime or any other authoritarian regimes. That’s why, we will not attend the UEC’s meeting,” said party secretary Sai Kyaw Nyunt. He declined to comment on the SNLD’s stance on proportional representation.
The ethnic Lahu National Development Party declined mail and phone invitations to attend the UEC meeting, said chairwoman Aye Thidar Myint.
“They have rejected the democratic path chosen by the people,” she said, referring to the military junta.
“Ours is one of the parties that won seats,” she said. “Other major parties also won the election by the people’s vote. Now the military has rejected these votes and is trying to change the political system. It’s just not right.”
88 Generation surprise
The Arakan National Party, an ethnic Rakhine party that dominates Myanmar’s westernmost state, attended the first session, but will sit out the second one over security and transportation issues, said general secretary Tun Aung Kyaw.
One outlier in the pro-democracy camp is the People’s Party, led by former 88 Generation Student Group leaders from an abortive 1988 anti-military movement.
“We decided to attend this meeting under the collective agreement of party members,” said party chairman Ko Ko Gyi, a democracy activist who spent more than 17 years in prison at different times between 1989 and 2012.
“We have opposed the military coup since the first day of the coup. We have never cooperated with the military council,” Ko Ko Gyi said.
But more than three months after the coup, the party’s leaders began to rethink their position on dealing with the junta.
“Instead of sitting out and remaining silent, it is better to have a presence and have a voice,” Ko Ko Gyi said. “We decided to work on our political mission by expressing our beliefs to them in a face-to-face setting.”
Not everyone in the People’s Party agreed with the decision. Ye Naing Aung, party co-founder and general secretary, resigned after officials decided to attend.
Yangon-based political analyst Than Soe Naing said the parties that will show appear to “condone” the military’s plan to hold new elections in a year.
“Some groups didn’t win anything in the election,” he said. “They may be trying to exploit the situation to their advantage by attending the meeting.”
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.