Myanmar’s Union Electoral Commission has successfully fought declarations published in a military newspaper that candidates for election to parliament be chosen on the basis of ‘race,’ a violation of election laws in the multiethnic nation of 54 million people, RFA has learned.
The rare complaint against the military journal Myawaddy was filed with the Myanmar Press Council at the end of August and was upheld by the Council the next day, MPC secretary Kyaw Swa Min told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Friday.
“We have settled the complaint, which the UEC filed on Aug. 31,” Kyaw Swa Min said, adding that the Council then met with the Myawaddy’s editor-in-chief on Sept. 1.
“They stopped publishing the piece on Sept. 2,” he said.
The canceled feature, extracted from a speech given by Gen. Min Aung Hlaing—commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s powerful military—had listed six criteria for selecting candidates as lawmakers in the coming Nov. 8 national election.
Among them was the army’s insistence that candidates be able to preserve the country’s “race and religion,” a violation of Section 364 of the country’s constitution and Chapter 12, Article 58 ( C ) of the Election Law, forbidding appeals to racial bias in campaigning.
“Pointing to racial and religious differences is illegal in election campaigns,” said Myo Nyunt, spokesperson for the Victory Committee of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), speaking to RFA in an interview.
“Whoever or whatever the person or organization is, they are not above the law,” he said.
“Issues of religion and race are very divisive and cause conflict,” agreed Mya Nandar Thin from the election monitoring group New Myanmar Foundation.
“If these things are only the opinions of ordinary persons, they don’t matter very much. But if they are the opinions of powerful persons, they could be highly influential,” he said.
Ye Htut, a political analyst and former government information minister, said however that state-owned newspapers regularly publish extracts from speeches by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and applaud the performance of the ruling NLD.
“These would have the same impact on people’s opinions, and so I don’t think this [canceled] piece in the Myawaddy would have caused many problems,” he said.
Attempts to reach the Union Electoral Commission and military spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun for comment on Friday were unsuccessful.
Myanmar’s NLD is seeking reelection after taking power from the pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in the last national vote, held in 2015.
Nearly 7,000 candidates from more than 90 parties, as well as independents, are vying for more than 1,100 seats available in both houses of the national parliament and in state and regional legislatures.
The stiffest competition will again be between the NLD, which is fielding 1,143 candidates, and the USDP, which has put 1,129 candidates forward.
Reported by Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Richard Finney.