Myanmar drops proposed election delay

Myanmar drops proposed election delay
U Aung Thein Lin from USDP party greets the supporters during the election campaign in South Okkalapa Township, Yangon on September 19, 2015. Photo: Hong Sar/Mizzima

Myanmar election authorities Tuesday confirmed that landmark polls would go ahead on November 8 in a national broadcast, after Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition rejected official suggestions that the vote be postponed because of flooding.
In an announcement read out on state media the Union Election Commission said it had decided to go ahead as planned with elections, after floating the idea of a delay at a meeting with major parties in the capital Naypyidaw.
“Following a review of the possible pros and cons of postponing the election date, the commission’s decision is that the general elections will be held on November 8 2015, as previously stated,” said an announcement read out on state media.
News of the meeting had earlier sent ripples of alarm through the nation where election fever is in full swing just weeks ahead of a vote seen as a crucial test of the country’s emergence from junta rule.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which is forecast to make major gains in the polls, earlier said it was against any attempt to stall the first nationwide vote it has contested in a quarter century.
Win Htein, a spokesman for the NLD, said the party was alone in opposing the postponement. Election rules mean the authorities can suspend voting in constituencies affected by natural disaster or unrest.
Myanmar is still recovering from massive floods in recent months that damaged infrastructure across the country and displaced 1.6 million people, but they were not previously thought to threaten the date of the polls.
- Decades of conflict -
Officials earlier Tuesday said they had cancelled voting in swathes of northern Shan and Kachin states bordering China because of ongoing fighting with ethnic rebels.
"Some village areas have security restrictions and we have security concerns about those. Others are in the control of Kachin (rebels) where we are not capable of holding elections," Tun Aung Khaing, a senior election official in Kachin State, told AFP.
That move had been anticipated and mainly affects areas battered by war or beyond the government's writ, in a country where several ethnic minority armies still resist state control.
It comes as Myanmar prepares to sign a limited ceasefire on October 15 as it tries to end decades of civil war.
A ceasefire between the army and Kachin rebels collapsed in 2011 under a new quasi-civilian government.
- Democracy fight -
Myanmar's November polls are set to crown four years of unprecedented openness in a nation driven into poverty and isolation by nearly half a century of repressive military rule.
There have been increasing fears that reforms are stalling in recent months.
Parties are already taking to the streets to drum up support and Suu Kyi has held large rallies across the country attended by crowds of flag-waving supporters. The NLD won elections in 1990 but the military rejected the results and repeatedly put Suu Kyi under house arrest until after 2010 polls.
The army-backed ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party swept those elections, unopposed by the NLD. Nobel laureate Suu Kyi cannot be president under constitutional rules barring the post to a person who married and had children with a foreigner.
In 2008 the country held a national referendum on the junta-drafted charter just days after parts of the nation were devastated by Cyclone Nargis which killed around 138,000 people.