Friday, August 18, 2017

Ex-generals seem relaxed even as defeat may be looming


Recently retired generals looking to win for the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party in what were considered safe seats in Myanmar’s military-heavy capital radiated a sense of relaxed confidence yesterday, even as a hint of possible defeat beckoned.

President U Thein Sein votes in Zabuthiri township constituency 2 in Nay Pyi Taw. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing / The Myanmar TimesPresident U Thein Sein votes in Zabuthiri township constituency 2 in Nay Pyi Taw. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing / The Myanmar Times

The powerful ex-officers pledged they would accept the results with good grace, echoing Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who guaranteed that the military would not reject them – as the Tatmadaw did in 1990 when the National League for Democracy won by a landslide.

Nay Pyi Taw has been a new kind of battleground where top retired generals, sitting ministers and even independents with close government ties have been looking to hold the fort for the USDP they helped create.

In all 43 candidates from four parties – the USDP, the NLD, the National Democratic Force Party and the National Unity Party – and eight independent candidates contested the capital’s six townships.

With a concentration of military personnel and civil servants and their families, the capital seemed to provide a USDP comfort zone.

But predictions were always hard to make, and early returns from the first polling stations to report in each township pointed to an NLD victory. Out of 15 polling stations in Dekkhinathiri, the NLD had taken 10, lost three and two were still counting. Those results included advance voting.

As more results came in suggesting an NLD victory, reporters asked Sen Gen Min Aung Hlaing whether he would be accept if the NLD won. He replied that there was “no reason to deny [an NLD victory]. We must accept the people’s choice.”

The USDP had brought out its big guns. Ex-general U Hla Htay Win in Zeyathiri; former defence minister and ex-lieutenant general U Wai Lwin in Pobbathiri; ex-minister for communications and information technology U Myat Hein; and former minister of irrigation and agriculture U Myint Hlaing in Dekkhinathiri, plus significant independent candidates from Nay Pyi Taw Council.

For the NLD, apart from U Phyo Zayar Taw and U Ye Mon – also known as Maung Tin Thit – who are well-known residents, the other candidates are ordinary local people, reflecting the conviction of their leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi that voters will choose the party, not the candidate.

The USDP candidates have been widely accused of buying votes through donations. On election day they seemed utterly calm in their conviction that they have the support of the people, but also those large numbers of military personnel and government staff.

No problems or complaints could be observed in military compound areas visited by The Myanmar Times. People waited to cast their votes in an orderly way. But in civilian polling stations it was a different picture.

Some people waited for long periods outside as they had not been listed on electoral registers. In some places people tried to vote with fake voter-ID cards.

In No 2 polling station in Zeyathiri township, 59 people could not vote because they were not on the electoral roll. The head of the village tract election sub-commission did not take any responsibility for missing names, saying he had done his best.
Ma Thu Zar, 44, was sorely disappointed, especially as her name had been on the list when it was made public for the second time.

“I want to vote for the first time in my life. I think they [UEC ] left us off because they already knew we will vote for the NLD,” she said.

Zeyathiri sees U Hla Htay Win running against NLD candidate Daw Khin Myo Thwe. The ex-officer brushed off the cited problems as minor. “I heard there have been small problems in my constituency but not big problems,” he told The Myanmar Times at Kyi Daung village polling station.

He said he contested the election freely and fairly and accepted democratic practices. “If I lose, I will congratulate the winner by shaking her hand,” he said.

In Pobbathiri reporters learned of voters who tried to vote with “fake” voter ID cards issued by the USDP. Many came with such fake cards to No 1 and 2 polling stations in Aung Thu Kha ward, Pobbathiri, where the USDP’s U Myat Hein was running against U Phyo Zay Yar Thaw of the NLD.

U Win Htein, who is U Wai Lwin’s campaign manager for Aung Thu Kha ward, said the USDP issued small voter ID cards without having UEC stamps to help people more easily find their names in voter lists.

“I think these are not fake voter IDs because these IDs are not so important for vote. The most important thing is having their names in the voter lists,” said U Win Htein.

However, elders in Aung Thu Kha village got angry over the voter IDs as they saw it as an attempt to steal votes.

“Voter IDs without having UEC stamps are fake, we believe. We are not satisfied those people were allowed to cast votes although some of those willing to vote for the NLD were removed from the final voter list. Many people cannot vote in our ward,” said U Kyaw San Lat from Aung Thu Kha.

U Wai Lwin, the former defence minister, said he wanted free and fair elections and was ready to accept what people decided.

“I don’t have hopes of winning definitely. I tried my best, but I will follow the people’s decision,” U Wai Lwin said. He said he felt like a student who sat an exam. “I will know the result around 8pm,” he added. “If I lost I won’t
hesitate to recognise the winner.”

Some NLD candidates were less than tranquil. “The head of the polling station got into polling booths and stamped on behalf of voters. Sometimes she gave instructions to voters which party they had to vote for. I warned her not to act like this, but she did not stop. That’s why I informed the township election body to stop her actions,” said U Thant Zin Tun, the NLD Pyithu Hlttaw candidate in Dekkhinathiri.

Also in counting advance votes, many cast for the NLD were rejected with various reasons given, U Thant Zin Tun complained.

Another ex-general voting in Nay Pyi Taw in Zabuthiri township was President U Thein Sein, chair of the USDP. Like the commander-in-chief, he too said he would accept the result.