Burma Army Soldiers to Vote at More Than 50 Ballot Stations Across Kachin State

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Out of some 889 ballot stations being prepared throughout Kachin State for the coming 2020 general election, 53 will be designated for Burma Army soldiers and their families, according to the state’s election commission.

Fifty-two of the stations will be for soldiers and their families to vote together with other civilians, and one is designated only for soldiers and their families and will be in Putao, deputy head of the Kachin State Election Commission Tun Aung Khine told NMG.

“There are total of 889 ballot stations including 836 stations for civilians, 52 stations for soldiers and their family members and civilians, and one station for soldiers,” he said.

The ballot station for soldiers only will be in Putao’s Tat-thit ward, in which only soldiers reside.

“No civilians live in Tat-thit ward. That’s why the ballot station is for only soldiers and their family members. But we will build the ballot station outside of army’s grounds. So soldiers and their family members will have to vote at a ballot station outside of the army [compound],” Tun Aung Khine told NMG.

Gumgrawng Awng Hkam, vice chair of the Kachin State People’s Party (KSPP), agreed that the voting stations should be outside of military territory.

“I think this is right decision. We welcome this, because if the ballot station is built inside of the army’s grounds, nobody can monitor the election,” he told NMG. “Now we can monitor the election, so everybody will know who is doing what. I think it’s a starting point for freedom. The army ballot stations must be built outside of the army’s ground.”

In February, both houses of the Union Parliament and the regional and state parliaments approved a move designating all ballot stations to be built outside of military grounds.

The Union Parliament approved it as an amendment to the election by-law on May 29.

“The Kachin State parliament changed the election law and the election by-law to have transparency in voting. According to the amendment, we have to build army ballot stations outside of the army’s grounds,” Tun Aung Khine told NMG.

He added that the Kachin State Election Commission had to negotiate with the northern military regional command to hold voting of soldiers alongside soldiers’ family members and civilians.

“We negotiated with the respective military command headquarters to build the army’s ballot stations outside of the army’s grounds. We will build army ballot stations in wards and villages nearby their military camps,” Tun Aung Khine said.

The KSPP’s Gumgrawng Awng Hkam said that even though soldiers and their family members can vote with other civilians, the situation is not greatly changed for political parties, which are banned from campaigning on the army’s grounds.

“We need to campaign freely. Everybody needs to vote freely. If other political parties cannot go to campaign to the army, then the soldiers and their family members will only know about the USDP. They will vote for the USDP,” Gumgrawng Awng Hkam told NMG, referring to the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.

Election monitoring groups and media outlets have been told they can monitor the electoral process at military ballot stations outside of military grounds.

There were total of 844 ballot stations inside the army’s compounds throughout Burma in the 2015 general election. Additionally, there were more than 100 ballot stations designated only for soldiers’ family members.