‘No way’ Myanmar polls will be free and fair: US official

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Singapore (AFP) – A senior US government official said on Saturday there was “zero chance” that elections planned by Myanmar’s junta next year would be free and fair.

Myanmar is in turmoil and its economy has been crippled since the February 2021 coup that overthrew civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory in the November 2020 elections, but the military alleged voter fraud to justify the coup.

US State Department adviser Derek Chollet has questioned the junta’s promise to hold new elections in August 2023.

“I think there is no chance that it will be free and fair, and it may be an attempt to manipulate the region, the international community,” Chollet told the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

Nearly 2,000 civilians were killed in the junta’s crackdown on dissent, and more than 14,000 people were arrested.

UN special envoy for Myanmar Noeleen Heyzer, who has not been allowed to visit the country since taking office late last year, fears an illegitimate ballot does not cause further trouble.

She said that unless the citizens of Myanmar had faith, the elections would return the country to “proper civilian government” and that the will of the people would be respected, it could be a “triggering point for a more great violence”.

Thai Foreign Ministry representative Pornpimol Kanchanalak, however, said the international community should not remain “stuck in cancellation rhetoric”.

“The convictions, the punishments, the ostracism…have reached diminishing returns,” she said.

Pornpimol acknowledged concerns about the upcoming ballot, but said the international community must take the junta’s commitment to hold elections “to the letter”.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations – a bloc of 10 countries including Myanmar – has led stalled diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah has urged ASEAN countries to go back to the drawing board and set deadlines for the “five-point consensus” reached in Jakarta in April 2021, which calls for the cessation violence and “constructive dialogue”.

He said there had been no discussion of Myanmar’s expulsion from the bloc.

Chollet confirmed that Washington “is not currently considering” supplying arms to anti-coup fighters in Myanmar despite requests for support like the one given to Ukraine after the Russian invasion.

Post-coup violence has pushed the number of displaced people in Myanmar to more than a million for the first time, the UN said in early June, expressing concern over the lack of humanitarian aid as well as the the monsoon season.

Since being ousted, Suu Kyi has been detained by the military and faces a series of charges that could see her jailed for more than 150 years.

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