Polls postponed in Kachin state

Polls postponed in Kachin state

The government’s Union Election Commission (UEC) announced on Friday that by-elections in Kachin State’s Mogaung, Hpakant and Bhamo townships have been postponed.

The UEC’s announcement was broadcasted on 23 March. According to the report, the designated areas “[are unable] to hold free and fair elections because of security [concerns]”.  According to the broadcast, the polls will take place at an “opportune time depending on the security [situation]”.

Fighting has intensified in Kachin state between rebel groups and government forces in recent weeks as human rights groups continue decry abuses committed by Burmese troop against the local population.

According to the Kachin News Group: “battles between army columns and Kachin forces have occurred on a daily basis throughout Kachin and northern Shan states since the latest round of talks held March 8th to 10th failed to reach a peace agreement.”

Former Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) vice-chairman Dr Manan Tuja, who is running as an independent for the vacated Mogaung seat, said the decision was disappointing for both the candidates and voters.

“I’m a bit sad to hear this after doing all this preparation. The voters were very hopeful for the polls, but then the news suddenly came and they [must be] discouraged by it,” said Dr Tuja.

The former KIO vice-chairman had tried to run in the general elections in 2010, but the party he formed, the Kachin State Progressive Party (KSPP), was denied entry. He then tried to run as an independent candidate and was still unable to participate.

“They are [blaming it on] security, but it’s discouraging for the political parties who had to do all the preparation work only to find out now [that the polls have been postponed],” said spokesperson for the National League for Democracy (NLD) Ohn Kyaing. “The parties have already done a lot of preparation and they spent money on it so reasonably, they may be discouraged by the news.”

The NLD was fielding three candidates to contest the empty seats in Kachin state.

Khin Maung Swe, leader of the National Democratic Force (NDF), expressed mixed feelings about the decision.

“We were disappointed when we first heard the news, but if you look at the situation, it was only ‘postponed’ due to security reasons but not ‘canceled’,” said Khin Maung Swe. “The announcement said the polls will be held when the situation with the security is better. At least it gives our comrades more time to campaign.”

The UEC announcement was made after the commission’s chairman Tin Aye paid a visit to Kachin state. An unnamed candidate who met with the chairman at Myitkyina’s city hall during his visit said the official didn’t mention having any reservations concerning elections in the state.

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