Burma Army Says Soldiers Can ‘Vote Independently’ in General Election

Monday, September 7, 2020

Burma Army spokesperson Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun has said that soldiers in the Tatmadaw can vote for candidates of their choosing in the country’s coming general election on November 8.

“As citizens of this country, soldiers can vote independently in the coming election,” he told media outlets in a recent press conference held by the military.

While the armed forces will not reportedly order soldiers to vote for a particular political party, they have made “suggestions” to soldiers about issues to keep in mind when endorsing a candidate.

“The commander-in-chief [Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing] released six-point guidelines. In the guidelines, he doesn’t tell soldiers to vote for a particular political party. We haven’t told soldiers which party or which candidate to vote for. We have suggested what it should be,” Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun said in the press conference.

Journalists at the conference inquired about the distribution of flyers that outlined the commander’s guidelines in Myitkyina, Kachin State, in August.

“We didn’t give any order to do it. For example, some people are distributing Dhamma books at Dhamma talks. Why do they distribute Dhamma books? Did the Lord Buddha order them to distribute these books? No. They respect the Lord Buddha. That’s why they are distributing Dhamma books. So we cannot blame them,” Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun told media outlets, comparing the act to the distribution of Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing’s voting guidelines.

The commander-in-chief’s guidelines recommend electing people who “work for the nation” and have a “vision” focused on politics, the economy and defense. Those elected should also value the three “national causes” of the Tatmadaw—non-disintegration of the Union, solidarity and the perpetuation of sovereignty. The guidelines also state that these individuals must not be “influenced” by foreign entities and must protect the state’s perceptions of “race and religion.”

Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun said that the military recommended to the Union Election Commission that voting not be held in townships under the control of the United Wa State Army, or in conflict-affected areas in northern Rakhine State, where the Burma Army and the Arakan Army have been engaged in intensifying clashes.

“First, we need security for the election to take place. It’s not too difficult to make this happen. Second, the election must be free and fair. It is difficult to make this happen,” the military spokesperson told NMG. “Mainly, voters need to be able to vote independently in the election without any fear or threats. From the perspective of the military, we cannot hold free and fair elections in those suggested areas. That’s why we have made the [according] suggestion to the UEC.”

In the press conference, Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun answered questions from reporters about COVID-19 control and response in Rakhine State, the army’s six-time extension of a unilateral ceasefire declaration, seizures of narcotics, and other current issues.