Kachin Party Worries Conflict Could Lead to Election Restrictions

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Kachin State People’s Party (KSPP) has expressed concern about the possibility that the government may restrict travel in conflict-affected parts of Kachin State ahead of next year’s general elections.

Gumgrawng Awng Hkam, the KSPP’s vice-chairman, said that the move could cost the party some seats in parliament.

“They might restrict travel in some constituencies that are predominantly Kachin because of frequent clashes in these areas. We are especially worried about some constituencies in Sumprabum, N’jang Yan, Winemaw, Bhamo, Mansi and Mohmauk townships,” he told NMG.

During the last general elections held in November 2015, voting was suspended or restricted in 11 townships in Kachin State—Winemaw, Chi Phwe, Sumprabum, Machanbaw, Hkawn Lan Hpu, Tanai, N’jang Yan, Mansi, Mohmauk, Shwegu and Sawt Lor—due to fighting between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army.

The main concern, according to Gumgrawng Awng Hkam, is that the restrictions will make it impossible for observers to know what is happening in the affected areas.

“If reporters cannot freely report news stories related to the 2020 elections from those areas, I think the election will be affected in some way,” he said, adding that journalists must be allowed to report from all constituencies during the election period, without any restrictions.

Meanwhile, reporters say that the rules currently in place are already too restrictive.

“Journalists need not only a press card to report from polling stations, but also permission for each one they want to enter. The elections are held in a single day, so this means we cannot report widely,” Nan Pawt Gay, the chairperson of Burma News International, told NMG.

The 2020 elections were a major topic of discussion during the 7th annual Ethnic Media Conference, held in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina in the third week of September.

Participants at that event shared their experiences from the 2015 elections and agreed that all restrictions on reporting should be lifted. Some, however, said they feared there would be no improvement over the last time the country went to the polls.

“Some journalists were blocked at the entrances to the polling stations. Some officers didn’t understand the rules and regulations of the voting places very well. I think the situation will be the same in the upcoming 2020 general elections,” Brang Mai, the Central Executive Officer of the Myitkyina Journal, told NMG.

“We want journalists to be able to get information in all constituencies without restrictions. Therefore, we are demanding the right to information. If journalists have a press card, they should have unrestricted access to information in all constituencies,” said Nan Pawt Gay.

Burma’s Union Election Commission suspended voting in a total of 600 villages and seven townships in Kachin, Karen, Mon, Shan states and Bago Region in the 2015 general elections.