The military in Myanmar is in the process of planning elections that analysts warn could spark further bloodshed as opposition to the ruling junta rages on, two years after a coup destroyed Myanmar’s short-lived democratic experiment.
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Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won resoundingly in the last Myanmar election in November 2020 — which the army used as an excuse to seize power on February 1, 2021.
As a result, many observers believe the planned Myanmar elections cannot be free and fair in the current circumstances, and one analyst even described them as mere “performances” intended to justify the junta’s hold on power under the present circumstances.
In February 2021, the army expropriated power due to allegations of voter fraud in the last election in November 2020, which was won resoundingly by the party of democracy figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi.
While the claims were never substantiated, Suu Kyi, as well as other top civilian leaders in the country, were arrested in a series of pre-dawn raids by the generals.
According to the constitution, there is also a constitutional requirement that a new election be held by the military no later than August, as the political opposition has been decimated, and the junta has the tacit support of Russia and China to hold a new election this year.
In spite of that, with the resistance raging from the hilly jungles of the borderlands to the plains of the army’s traditional recruiting grounds, it is likely that people across a wide swath of the country will not vote — or risk being retaliated against if they do vote.
A former civil servant in Yangon who has been on strike since the coup told AFP that any elections held by the junta will be “like a cart with only one wheel”.
“There is no way it will bring any progress,” he said, requesting anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Lin Lin, a member of one of the hundreds of “People’s Defence Force” groups fighting the junta in the jungle near the Thai border, claimed polls would have no influence on their objective to remove the military from Myanmar politics.
“We will keep our firearms until we have an elected Myanmar government,” he told AFP.
According to the UN, more than a million people have been displaced by violence since the coup, with the military accused of bombing and shelling civilians and committing war crimes in its efforts to quell opposition.
Last week UN human rights official Volker Turk warned the nation faced a “catastrophic scenario, which sees only escalating human misery and rights breaches on a daily basis”.
The junta-imposed state of emergency is set to expire at the end of January, at which point the constitution requires the Myanmar government to call new elections.
Although the government of junta supremo Min Aung Hlaing has not established a date, it did let all current and prospective political parties two months to register with its election commission last week.
Military officials are attempting to assemble a broad enough patchwork of constituents to make an election legitimate, including ethnic rebel groups that have avoided the post-coup upheaval and smaller, regional parties.
However, voting will most certainly be difficult in many parts of the country, according to Htwe Htwe Thein of Curtin University in Australia.
“In regions where they do have power, people may be compelled to vote, and vote for the junta-affiliated party or parties,” she told AFP.
“People will undoubtedly think that they are being monitored – and that there may be consequences for not voting or voting against the junta.”
Anti-coup fighters have also threatened people assisting with the poll, with local media reporting multiple attacks on teams validating voter lists in Yangon’s economic centre.
The junta’s “technical ability to organise anything approaching even blatantly fabricated elections will be limited by a lack of institutional capacity, uncertainty, boycotts, and violence,” according to independent expert David Mathieson.
Any poll would be “far from legitimate,” Mathieson said.
“Remember, these aren’t genuine elections. They put up a filthy spectacle.
‘Determination and defiance’
With the generals sheltered at the UN by Moscow and Beijing, and the international world preoccupied with crises in Ukraine and Afghanistan, many in Myanmar have given up on outside assistance.
According to Mathieson, it would take nothing short of a “miracle” for Myanmar’s opposition to receive the type of weaponry backing that is presently flowing into Ukraine.
While Washington has pushed the international community to reject any election as a “sham,” diplomatic sources suggest that neighbouring countries like as Thailand, India, and China would likely grant their tacit permission.
Whatever the conclusion, it is unlikely to put a stop to the country’s bloodshed.
“The aim is to assault the military regime with defiance,” Lin Lin explained from the bush near the Thai border.
“We will rest until the people choose an elected administration.”