The Myanmar military and the rebel Arakan Army, observing a temporary truce in a two-year-long war, must reach a “solid” security guarantee before elections can be held in parts of Rakhine state where elections officials suspended voting in November, a government spokesman said Friday.
Zaw Htay, spokesman for the President’s Office, told RFA that the military had not yet provided such a guarantee to the Union Election Commission (UEC), which must decide whether and when to hold the balloting.
Myanmar’s military, backing a demand of the AA amid the fragile cease-fire, called on Thursday for elections to be held by Feb. 1 in strife-torn parts of Rakhine and Shan states where voting had been cancelled before the Nov. 8 general elections for security reasons. Newly elected lawmakers will take their seats in parliament at the start of February and begin a new legislative session.
Though the government is willing to hold voting in nine Rakhine townships where elections had been canceled, a solid agreement between the warring armies is needed, Zaw Htay said during a press conference in Naypyidaw
“As for the government, we want the elections to happen, but they cannot be held as it is now,” he said. “There are processes that need to be completed, [and] in order to complete these specific processes, we need solid agreements.”
Fair conditions for all candidates and parties and voting rights for civilians displaced by armed conflict also are being taken into consideration for elections to be held, the spokesman said.
“Securing the bilateral cease-fire agreement and signing it involve different issues,” Zaw Htay said.
Time will be required to designate a campaign period for candidates, to arrange voting in war displaced refugee camps, to conduct voting in districts where balloting was canceled, and to arrange security, he said.
“After we address these issues, step by step, then we can hold the elections under the agreement,” he said.
The government and the UEC are still negotiating with the AA, Zaw Htay added.
Myanmar military spokesmen were not available for comment.
Up to the government, UEC
In response to Zaw Htay’s comments, AA spokesman Khine Thukha said the issue of holding elections in Rakhine state is entirely up to the government and the UEC because the AA already stated publicly that it will guarantee security during voting.
“Whether or not the election plans go forward depends only on the government and the UEC,” he said. “We already announced that we will guarantee security-related issues as much as we can.”
“At the same time, the Myanmar military also announced that it wants election plans to move forward,” he said. “Now, you can see who is delaying plans for the election.”
Zaw Htay said the government also is negotiating with the members of the Northern Alliance of rebel armies that includes the AA, Kachin Independence Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, to meet for peace talks in either Myitkyina, capital of Kachin state, or the town of Kengtung in Shan state during the second week of January.
The government has sent a draft bilateral cease-fire agreement containing a security guarantee to the Northern Alliance as a prerequisite for holding make-up elections, he said.
Khine Thukha said the date and time of the meeting had not yet been confirmed.
Pe Than, a Rakhine state lawmaker from the Arakan National Party, said the government is procrastinating over the holding elections because it has no motivation for doing so.
“We are now in January, [and] the new parliamentary sessions are about to begin,” he said. “They are still talking about negotiations for the elections.”
Zaw Htay also said that the government will move forward with plans to form a new government and that there would be no problems with the transition, despite legal challenges filed by military-linked political parties that have not recognized the result of the elections won by a landslide by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD).
The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the Democratic Party of National Politics (DNP) have accused the NLD government and the UEC of electoral fraud and have filed a joint complaint with the Supreme Court. An initial hearing will take place on Jan.29.
Reported by Thiha Tun and Thet Su Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.