Monday, September 25, 2017

Delaying elections unconstitutional, politicians warn

Political leader have hit back at hints from President U Thein Sein that next year’s election may not go ahead unless a nationwide ceasefire agreement is signed, saying that any delays would represent a violation of the constitution.

While the president did not explicitly state the election could be postponed if the peace process is not successful, the ambiguity of his comments has some worried.

U Aye Thar Aung, the deputy leader of the Rakhine National Party, said the constitution was explicit that elections be held every five years.

“The government must hold elections [in 2015] regardless of whether a nationwide ceasefire agreement is signed,” he said.

He said the government might be seeking an excuse to delay the vote because it is afraid of losing the election.

“They are already trying to change the electoral system in parliament but they are in a tight corner because the [election changes] contradict the 2008 constitution … I think the president wants to delay [the election].”

U Thein Sein said in his monthly radio address on October 1 that political dialogue with armed ethnic groups must take place to “ensure stability, successful holding of the 2015 general elections, and smooth continuation of political reforms”, according to a transcript in English-language state mouthpiece The Global New Light of Myanmar.

“At the same time, only when the nationwide ceasefire agreement is concluded successfully can we start political dialogue,” he said, adding that the peace process was at a “crucial juncture”.

The comments generated widespread interest, with many quick to interpret them as a warning that the election would not be held without a nationwide ceasefire agreement.

The President’s Office did not respond to requests for clarification last week.

Some politicians said that while they agreed the nationwide ceasefire and subsequent political dialogue are essential for development and political stability, the elections must still go ahead.

U Han Shwe, chair of the National Unity Party, said he was unsure exactly what the president meant by the remarks. “Our party’s view is that the nationwide ceasefire is essential … [but] even if the agreement is not signed before the end of 2015 the elections should not be postponed,” he said. “They must be held in accordance with the constitution.”