November 8 marked the one-year anniversary of the 2020 Myanmar general election, the first national election since 2015, when decades of military rule effectively ended.
That experience with democracy was short-lived.The National League for Democracy (NLD), chaired by Aung San Suu Kyi, secured re-election in the 2020 voting, roundly defeating the military-aligned Union and Solidarity Party, which immediately contested the results.
In February 2021, the military staged a coup, arrested Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders, and harshly cracked down on pro-democracy protests. State-backed violence and popular resistance have escalated to the point of near civil war, the United Nations’ outgoing special envoy on Myanmar said in October.
On November 11, the independent Irrawaddy news outlet, citing Myanmar’s government in exile, reported that 1,300 soldiers were killed and 463 injured in the previous month of fighting with civilian resistance groups.
The Myanmar nonprofit Assistance Association of Political Prisoners now estimates 1,258 people have been killed by the military since the coup.
The United Nations Security Council has expressed concern over the spiraling violence, while pushing for a democratic transition. Still, Myanmar’s military rulers maintain the election was rigged, and continue to cling to power.
On November 10, coup leader and self-declared prime minister Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said the assessment of the election’s fairness should not just come on election day, but also prior to and after voting.
The government-run Global New Light of Myanmar cites him as saying political parties had sent letters and reports documenting instances of voter fraud.
“More than 11 million ballots were wrongly counted in the election across the nation in scrutinizing the voter lists. Voting fraud is the worst in the democracy,” the paper quotes him as saying.
That is false. The junta has never put forward evidence of large-scale voter fraud. Outside monitors said the election, though imperfect, overall reflected the will of the people.
Approximately 38 million people were eligible to vote in the 2020 parliamentary election, with turnout reported at roughly 72 percent. Suu Kyi's party won far more seats than needed to form a new government.
The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), Asia’s first regional network of civil society, visited 205 polling stations during the early voting period and 225 polling stations during election. In a May report, ANFREL said it found “insufficient evidence” to support claims of voter fraud.
Election observers and agents of various political factions were “granted access to polling stations almost everywhere,” ANFREL noted, although social distancing protocols for COVID-19 did restrict how many observers could go inside.
ANFREL said that the checking and application of indelible ink — a type of cleaning-resistant dye that remains on the finger for one week and secures the “one person, one vote” principle — was “perfunctorily implemented.”
The Carter Center, a nongovernmental organization advocating for peace and health, also sent 43 observers to 234 polling stations in 10 states and regions on election day.
The center gave a positive assessment of voting conduct “in 94 percent of polling stations visited,” adding that the counting process “was conducted according to procedures and in the presence of party agents.”
The center did say access to tabulation centers for mission observers had been limited or denied in three instances, adding it would continue to monitor the post-election processes.
Just days before the coup, 12 domestic election observer groups, including the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections, the largest such group in the country, released a statement on the election’s credibility.
The groups dispatched observers to monitor “the voter list display, campaign activities, advance voting during the pre-election period, voting process on election day, and the tabulation process.”
The groups found the election results “were credible and reflected the will of the majority voters.”
The Japanese government and European Union also sent limited monitoring missions to the country.
In July, Japan’s foreign ministry slammed the nullification of the election, saying the vote “was conducted in a fair manner under the eyes of domestic and foreign election monitoring teams.”
The Myanmar Election Commission, whose members were chosen by the military, first leveled the claim of 11 million election fraud cases. According to the commission, voting roll errors, including duplicate registrations and non-citizens on electoral registers, constitute the bulk of the “premeditated” errors, Japan's Kyodo News reported.
The BBC reported that it was unable to verify those claims because “the final voter lists were removed from public view after the election, and the election commission has withheld the data, citing privacy concerns.”
Still, there were problems in Myanmar’s democratic process.
Domestic election observers found “shortcomings in the electoral legal framework,” along with “some inconsistencies in election administration and weaknesses in implementation during the COVID-19 pandemic situation.”
ANFREL and others have noted that the Rohingya and members of some religious orders have been disenfranchised.
Both the military and the NLD have been party to the oppression of the Rohingya, rights groups report. International investigators say there is evidence the military’s actions may constitute ethnic cleansing and even genocide.
Suu Kyi has defended Myanmar against genocide allegations, while her NLD government prevented Rohingya Muslims from voting in the 2015 election.
Many Rohingya were disenfranchised again in the 2020 voting, and the electoral commission canceled voting in some conflict-beset states, further excluding other ethnic minorities, the BBC said.