Myanmar’s military has officially postponed an election promised by August this year after extending a state of emergency it imposed in the aftermath of its 2021 coup.
In a statement on state television on Monday, the military cited ongoing violence as the reason for the election delay.
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“In order to have an election that is free and fair and also to be able to vote without any fear, necessary security arrangements are still needed and so the period for the state of emergency has been extended,” the statement said.
The announcement amounted to an admission that the military does not exercise enough control to stage the polls and has failed to subdue widespread opposition to its rule, which includes increasingly challenging armed resistance as well as nonviolent protests and civil disobedience.
The state of emergency was declared when troops arrested elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi as well as top officials from her government and members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party on February 1, 2021. The military claimed widespread fraud in the election held in November 2020, which returned the NLD to power, for its power grab.
The takeover reversed years of progress towards democracy after five decades of military rule in Myanmar.
The military originally announced that new polls would be held a year after its takeover and later said they would take place in August 2023.
But coup leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, told the meeting that extended the state of emergency on Monday that the poll could not take place amid continued fighting in the Sagaing, Magway, Bago and Tanintharyi regions as well as Karen, Kayah and Chin states.
“We need for a time to continue our duty for systematic preparation as we shouldn’t hold coming elections in a rush,” he told the military-backed National Defence and Security Council (NDSC), according to the MRTV broadcaster.
Monday’s report did not specify when the polls might be held, saying only that they would occur after the goals of the state of emergency are accomplished.
The emergency, which is being extended for a fourth time, allows the military to assume all government functions, giving Min Aung Hlaing, who heads the governing council, legislative, judicial and executive powers.
Nay Phone Latt, a spokesperson for the National Unity Government (NUG) – a group that calls itself the country’s legitimate government – said the extension of emergency rule was expected.
“The junta extended the state of emergency because the generals have a lust for power and don’t want to lose it. As for the revolutionary groups, we will continue to try to speed up our current revolutionary activities,” he told The Associated Press news agency.
The military labels the NUG and its armed wing, the People’s Defense Forces, as “terrorists”.
In response to the military’s announcement, the United States said extending the state of emergency would plunge Myanmar “deeper into violence and instability”.
“Since overthrowing a democratically elected government two and a half years ago, the military regime has carried out hundreds of airstrikes, burned down tens of thousands of homes, and displaced more than 1.6 million people,” said State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller, using an alternate name for the country.
“The regime’s widespread brutality and disregard for the democratic aspirations of the people of Burma continue to prolong the crisis,” he added.
The military’s crackdown on dissent has killed more than 3,800 people and seen more than 24,000 arrested, according to a local monitoring group.
The military says more than 5,000 civilians have been killed by “terrorists” since it seized power.
Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict led by the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional bloc have, meanwhile, stalled, with the military refusing to engage with its opponents.