Citing baseless claims of voter fraud, the Military staged a coup in Myanmar on 1st February 2021 in line with global trends of creeping authoritarianism and shameless denial of legitimate electoral results.
Myanmar and the United States both held free and fair elections in November 2020. In both cases, authoritarian politicians started engaging in naked lies about the legitimacy of the vote to cover their electoral defeat. Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn election results—culminating in the January 6 storming of the house of Congress—ultimately failed. In Myanmar, the military went further, overturning the electoral defeat with military action.
On 1st February 2021, Myanmar woke to the shocking news that the military had seized power. Myanmar citizens at home and abroad were outraged by the baseless claims of irregularities in the election process and voter fraud used to justify the coup. Those who casted their votes for the November 2020 election amid the challenges of COVID-19 pandemic were particularly distraught.
Throughout this tragedy, I have been dismayed not only as a Myanmar citizen voting in only the second fair election held in my lifetime, but also as an officer responsible for the whole process of overseas advance voting for the recent November election.
I am a career diplomat, and was in charge of the oversea advance voting process at the Headquarters (Ministry of Foreign Affairs – MOFA). I was mandated to facilitate and monitor the oversea voting procedures at the Myanmar Embassies and Missions abroad, and to cooperate with the Union Election Commission (UEC) and other ministries.
The Military’s illogical claim of irregularities in Election process frustrated me. At the same time, it reminded me of how I handled the oversea voting process in the periods of both pre-election and during election. The election process concerns not only the tasks carried out on election day, but also the whole suite of activities started in early 2019.
Throughout 2019, we coordinated and negotiated with the UEC through formal meetings and informal discussions to implement the better procedures for 2020 overseas voting. Following the coup, I recalled memories of how we endeavoured to avoid the mistakes and limitations of 2015 in the upcoming 2020 election. One noticeable memory is that we compiled the Myanmar Embassies’ experiences and obstacles during 2015 election and suggestions for 2020, and then forwarded to UEC.
Leading up to the Election in November, 2020 was a very busy year. I reminisced about the five procedures we operated in time. These consisted of distribution of form 15 (application form for overseas advance voting) by the embassies, forwarding the filled forms to UEC through MOFA, issuing voter list and ballots by UEC, organising overseas voting centres by embassies and sending cast ballots to UEC through MOFA. Following the UEC’s instructions, MOFA played a crucial role for instructing and monitoring the whole voting process at Myanmar Embassies abroad.
The COVID-19 pandemic was of course an unexpected challenge which undermined our operating procedures. Despite the logistical and time constraints imposed by the situation, we successfully implemented oversea voting procedures.
As I took care of those functions with full responsibility, I can say that all the Myanmar embassies abroad did their best for the people’s rights to vote among the difficulties and pandemic’s limitations. I could also feel with heart the eagerness, activeness and efforts of those abroad to cast their votes for 2020 election. These voters could not have foreseen the coup, making their betrayal all the more heartbreaking.
The voters around the world who struggled to come the Myanmar embassies to cast their votes grappled with the COVID-19 challenges. In some cases, within the acceptable situations of host countries, some Myanmar Embassies expanded the voting places to other cities or countries, besides preparing the polling booths at the embassies.
Apart from the efforts of those responsible for voting process, the strong passion of Myanmar people abroad made the overseas advance voting period a success. They tried to realise their voting rights and cast their votes amid the limitations of the COVID-19. That way they contributed for the emergence of democratically elected government for another 5-year-term.
From my perspective as a voter I witnessed the enthusiasm and excitement of the Myanmar people casting their votes on the day of election in Nay Pyi Taw, and felt the nationwide enthusiasm for voting on social media. November 8 was the memorable day for Myanmar, as the people of Myanmar enacted their citizens’ rights to vote.
Unable to accept the electoral defeat of their political allies, the military conducted the coup with baseless accusations of voter fraud and detained the democratically elected state leaders of Myanmar on 1st February 2021. Following the coup, there have been strong nationwide anti-coup demonstrations, calling for their votes to be respected. The military responded with brutal suppression the people’s movements. Military and security forces have been murdering people at will, arbitrarily arresting and inhumanely torturing, in which more than 800 people have been killed so far during more than 110 days under the military coup.
The Myanmar electorate made its intentions clear and were fully happy with the election results with the hope to march to more democratic values. These hopes have been cruelly dashed by the military coup. This is why the overwhelming majority of Myanmar’s people have refused to accept the legitimacy of the military coup. It has been more than 110 days already. How many more days will it take for the people to be heard?
A country cannot function if the will of its people is ignored. Only the people can select the leaders and give them the legitimacy to rule the country. This is the democracy the people desire – a rule of the people, for the people and by the people.
*Khaing Sandi Win Min is the First Secretary at Myanmar Permanent Mission in Geneva. Following the military coup, she joined the Civil Disobedience Movement and has refused to represent the junta. She holds Master of International Relations and Master of Diplomacy from the Australian National University.