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The Union Election Commission’s (UEC) decision on Tuesday to publicly propose and then drop a plan to delay Burma’s 8 November polls has prompted criticism from major political parties, who questioned the commission’s motives for floating the controversial proposal.
Local and international media had widely reported on remarks by UEC chairman Tin Aye on Tuesday morning about a possible nationwide polling delay, which were supposedly necessary because of problems posed by the flood disaster that hit parts of Burma in June and July.
Later, the commission said in a statement that it had “reviewed a number of opinions put forward by a number of political parties and decided not to delay the elections and to go ahead with it on 8 November.”
Win Htein, a spokesperson of the National League for Democracy (NLD), said he struggled to make sense of Tin Aye’s initial plan and subsequent u-turn.
“I welcome the announcement as I was the only one who objected to the proposal for the postponement of the elections,” he said. “But still, I remain confounded by the flip-flopping statements, which are coming out from the elections commission even though it is a top government body.”
During a meeting on Tuesday morning, the NLD had protested against any postponement, while the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party and some smaller parties supported it, and several others abstained.
The NLD of hugely popular leader Aung San Suu Kyi is seen as the clear frontrunner in the polls, which are to be first relatively free and fair vote after decades of military rule. Myanmar Now interviews with dozens of would-be voters across Rangoon indicate overwhelming support for the NLD and little interest in other parties.
Aye Thar Aung, a senior leader of the Arakan National Party, which is expected to sweep most constituencies in western Burma’s Arakan State, said the commission’s delay proposal had been “very questionable” and he doubted that it was based on practical problems for campaigning and voting in flood-hit areas.
“When the floods occurred, some political parties suggested that the commission postpone the polls, but they were completely ignored. Now, at a point when the elections campaign is in full swing and parties have already spent human and financial resources, this proposal of an elections postponement came out,” he told Myanmar Now.
“That in itself is dishonest. We still question what was the motive was behind that proposal,” said Aye Thar Aung.
He said he had been campaigning in parts of Arakan State, including in flood-hit townships such Mrauk-U and Myebon, and found that although communities were focused on survival, they were aware of the importance of the vote and intended to participate.
An independent expert who closely follows the election preparations said the commission had failed to provide detailed reasons for the suggested delay, adding that the events had furthered heightened concerns over the commission’s impartiality.
“The commission made a surprise move to delay the elections which panicked everyone,” added the expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
Tin Aye’s background as a former top general in the previous junta has led many to question his impartiality, a problem that was further exacerbated by public remarks in which he voiced supported for the army-linked, ruling party.