New Developments in Myanmar Could Open the Way for Supplementary Elections in Rakhine State (2) [2021/01/18]
While I mediated the negotiations between the military and the AA, I travelled to the state of Rakhine in late November 2020 with the assistance of the military. To take a first-hand look at the townships where polling had been canceled earlier that month, I talked with the state’s key stakeholders, including leaders of the Arakan National Party (ANP), and as many local ethnic residents as possible about the security situation and the possibility of holding elections in those constituencies where voting was cancelled.
Based on my observation there, I personally told State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services of Myanmar as well as UEC Chairman U Hla Thein that I saw no problem in holding the supplementary elections the people in those Rakhine townships want.
When the AA released the NLD trio and the military personnel on January 1 as discussed in my previous post, I issued a statement welcoming the decision and expressing my heartfelt admiration and respect for the military and the AA as both had played a central role−as organizations and individuals−in successfully negotiating their release.
I said I firmly believe that both the military and the AA will continue to negotiate with due generosity to bring about true peace in the state of Rakhine, expressing my hope that a free and fair election, which is the foundation of democracy, will be held there for the people of Rakhine by ending almost two years of intense fighting. My statement was widely reported by local newspapers and television stations.
I might also add that Myanmar Western Commander Major General Htin Latt Oo told a television interview that he was grateful to me for setting the stage for the release of the NLD members and soldiers.
Another point I would like to call attention to is the impact that the latest encouraging developments might have on the stalled negotiations aimed at attaining national reconciliation in Myanmar.
So far, 10 out of almost 20 ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) have signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) with the Union government and the military. But the peace process continues to exclude some of the country’s largest and most prominent ethnic groups like the AA.
The temporary truce declared by the military and the AA could open the way for the government to seek a new round of peace talks with the Northern Alliance, consisting of four EAOs, including the AA and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
As for my role in the peace-building process, I am a private citizen who turned 82 years old on January 8. But I am full of enthusiasm, spiritual strength to withstand any difficulties and a resolve to keep working hard until I see results.
I acknowledge that the complexity of the situation in Myanmar makes this a truly challenging task. In the background are more than 70 years of ethnic strife as well as the growing presence of China in Southeast Asia. It is also a fact that Japan has never brokered a deal to settle an internal armed conflict in a foreign country.
However, I am determined to work to the best of my ability to complete my mission as the Special Envoy of the Government of Japan to attain the ultimate goal of creating a democratic Federal Republic that will emerge in the future for national reconciliation and Union peace.
New Developments in Myanmar Could Open the Way for Supplementary Elections in Rakhine State (1) [2021/01/15]
The New Year saw some encouraging new developments in Myanmar that I have visited nearly 130 times in my capacity as chairman of The Nippon Foundation and Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in that country.
On January 1, the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic armed organization (EAO) in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine, announced that it released three then-candidates of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) it abducted ahead of the November 8 general election and returned three soldiers captured in late 2019 to the Union military.
Potentially, the announcement could pave the way for holding supplementary elections in the nine townships in Rakhine State where the Union Election Commission (UEC) cancelled the November 8 voting on security grounds. It might also provide a fresh impetus to revamp the stalled negotiations aimed at realizing a comprehensive ceasefire between the Union government, the military and all the EAOs.
The episode was reported widely by newspapers, television networks and other media as the day’s top news, and I would like to elaborate on the developments leading up to the announcement.
The three freed NLD members, who stood for seats representing Rakhine’s Taungup Township in the Lower House, Upper House and State parliament, respectively, were abducted by the AA while campaigning in the township on October 14. The military personnel were captured during fighting in the state in November 2019.
The AA transferred the six to the military near the state capital of Sittwe, and then the NLD trio was turned over to the Rakhine state government.
The AA’s abduction of the NLD members was cited as one of the reasons for the UEC’s cancellation of the November 8 balloting in the nine townships in Rakhine and some parts of Shan State.
Soon after monitoring the November 8 voting as the head of the Japanese government’s election observer mission, I contacted the AA through organizations and some people I knew to explore the possibility of holding supplementary elections in Rakhine. Then, the group issued a statement on November 12, urging the Union government and the military to hold balloting in those nine townships. Within hours, the military issued a statement, welcoming the AA request.
Both the military and the AA declared an informal ceasefire after two years of fighting that killed and injured hundreds and forced some 220,000 people from their homes in the state. This resulted in tens of thousands of displaced villagers in the troubled state begin to return home, at least temporarily, to harvest their crops.
It can be said that the AA’s release of the three ex-candidates has created an opening for holding the balloting in Rakhine. It is now up to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, who heads the NLD, whether the voting is actually going to take place in the conflict-affected constituencies.
Were the supplementary elections to be held in Rakhine, the Arakan National Party (ANP) and other local ethnic groups in the state are projected to win more seats. But given the NLD’s landslide victory in the November 8 election, this is considered unlikely to dent the its overall dominance in the Union parliament.
Rather, I believe it is more desirable to hold the supplementary voting by the end of January, or before newly elected lawmakers are sworn in for the Union parliament in early February. This would ward off the criticisms by international NGOs and others who denounced the UEC’s decision to cancel the balloting in Rakhine for “disenfranchising” hundreds of thousands of minority voters in the state, which would prevent them from having a voice in the country’s government.
Describing such a ballot as a “supplementary” vote rather than a by-election would potentially circumvent an amendment made in 2019 to the law regulating the elections for the Myanmar Union parliament, which stipulates that by-elections cannot be held in the first and fifth year of a parliamentary term.
Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Tree I Planted in India Blooms [2021/01/08]
The sakura (cherry blossom) tree I planted at the opening ceremony of the Imphal Peace Museum in northeast India in June 2019 comes into bloom.
When I attended the opening ceremony of the Imphal Peace Museum in northeast India in June 2019, marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Imphal between Japanese troops and British-led Allied Forces, I was one of 10 Japanese, British and Indian dignitaries who each planted a sakura (cherry blossom) tree.
The Battle of Imphal is often regarded as one of the fiercest battles of World War II. The Nippon Foundation supported the project, launched by the Manipur Tourism Forum, to build a peace museum with the theme of “Peace and Reconciliation” to pass on the story of the cruel conflict to future generations.
In December 2020, I was delighted to receive an email from Mr. Haobam Joyremba, secretary to the tourism forum, saying that among the sakura trees planted at the opening ceremony, only mine had bloomed, as shown on the photo above. It is unusual for a cherry blossom tree to bloom just over a year or so after being planted, delighting people in Imphal, the capital of Manipur State. Some even called it a miracle.
The cherry blossom tree produced its dainty-colored blooms near what is known as Bleached Bones Avenue. This was the escape route used by Japanese soldiers during their retreat after the operation was called off. In all, more than 30,000 Japanese soldiers died−not just in the fierce fighting but also as a result of starvation, disease and exhaustion suffered during their retreat.
When I think of the spirits of those soldiers who died, my feelings are complicated because I have lived a long life (I turned 82 years old on January 8) in a peaceful country, Japan. I feel very sorry for their sacrifice, but their efforts were never in vain.
Bearing in mind that the precious peace we share today is the legacy of the ultimate suffering of those who fought and fell in battle, we must remind ourselves that our duty is to continue protecting our peaceful society.
In Japan, the sakura tree is often regarded as a symbol of peace. With its blossoming in Imphal, I wish with all my heart that the peace museum will become a bridge to connect the past and the future to create peace in the world for all time.
Mr. Haobam Joyremba, secretary to the Manipur Tourism Forum, which launched the project to build the Imphal Peace Museum with the support of The Nippon Foundation in June 2019, with the Sakura tree.
60% of Japanese Women Want More Female Lawmakers, But It Might Take Years to Achieve [2021/01/05]
Happy New Year! All of us at The Nippon Foundation wish you a healthy and happy 2021.The Global Gender Gap Report, compiled annually by the World Economic Forum (WEF), benchmarks countries on their progress toward gender parity in four dimensions: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment.
In its 2020 report, Japan declined 11 positions from the previous year to its worst ranking of 121st out of 153 countries, by far the lowest among the Group of Seven (G7) nations. In the dimension of political empowerment, it came lower still at 144th, making it among the worst 10 countries in the world.
At the end of 2019, female representation in Japan’s House of Representatives stood at 10.1% and House of Councilors at 20.7%, while that of prefectural assemblies was put at 11.4%.
To try to figure out how Japanese women look at this reality, The Nippon Foundation conducted an online survey on the theme of “Women and Politics,” covering 10,000 women aged 18 to 69 across the country, from November 6 to 10, 2020.
The poll found that more than 60% of Japanese women (61.6%) talk about politics and policies with their family members and friends. When asked about the low female representation in national and local legislatures, 62.2% see themselves as being represented by too few women.
Regarding the fact that there are only two female ministers in the 20-member Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga installed in September 2020, almost two-thirds (63.4%) think there are too few women ministers. Queried on how many female Cabinet officers they want to have ideally, 56.3% said they want about half the Cabinet to be composed of women and 39.8% said about 30%.
Asked why there is slow progress in promoting female representation in Japanese politics, more than 30% of the respondents cited the following points: the difficultly of balancing work as lawmakers with domestic life (34.5%); gender stereotypes in society that frame politics as essentially a male sphere of activity (34.0%); the lack of a well-established environment to nurture female candidates and politicians (32.7%); and the entrenched notion that it is better for men to work outside and for women to stay at home to do child-rearing and other family work (31.4%).
Regarding the possible introduction of “quota” systems aimed at encouraging more women to get involved in politics, and France’s Parité, under which political parties have to endorse an equal number of men and women candidates for the proportional representation segment in municipal, national and European elections, more than one in three (35.5%) of Japanese women support such ideas, over one in 10 (14.1%) were against, and more than half (50.4%) said they do not know. This indicates there has not been enough discussion among the Japanese public on the advisability of quotas. More than half of those who answered that they are against or do not know (53.5%) said it is ill-advised to set a numerical target, insisting only those who have the appropriate ability should become politicians.
With respect to policies of the Suga administration, a great majority of Japanese women (77.8%) said they highly evaluate its plan for covering the cost of fertility treatments by the national health insurance system starting in fiscal 2022. As to policies they want the government to follow under the Basic Act for Gender-Equal Society, which came into effect in 1999 to accelerate the development of gender equality in Japan, more than half (54.2%) said it needs to create a social and workplace environment that encourages women’s desire to participate in politics or take managerial positions in businesses.
About two-thirds of Japanese women (63.7%) said they believe it is necessary for Japan to have more female politicians. As reasons for this, they said that opinions of women would be reflected more in politics (58.4%) and that Japanese women’s participation in politics and society is too low compared to other countries (44.5%).
But asked whether they want to engage in political activities if they have a chance, only one in five (22.4%) said yes. When queried whether they want to become politicians themselves if there is an opportunity, less than one in ten (7.7%) answered in the affirmative. On the other hand, almost 90% (87.6%) said they do not want to become politicians.
In particular, more younger women (42.2% of those aged 18 to 29) and those with higher education (37.3% of college graduates and 38.8% of those with postgraduate degrees) tend to say they are not interested in politics as an occupation.
The findings of the survey are open to various interpretations. But it might take years to attain gender parity in politics in Japan, requiring the whole nation to create a much better environment to induce more women to get interested and involved in politics.
Sasakawa Health Foundation Holds Seminar on Hansen’s Disease Medical Care in Brazil [2020/12/24]
The Sasakawa Health Foundation, The Nippon Foundation’s partner organization, held an online seminar on December 13 on Hansen’s disease (leprosy) medical care in Brazil for doctors and other healthcare professionals in Japan interested in learning and engaging in international health services.
Co-organized by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and the Japanese Dermatological Association, the seminar was joined by experts from Brazil’s Ministry of Health, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), the Brazil Hansen’s Disease Society and the Movement for the Reintegration of People Affected by Hansen’s Disease (Morhan) who talked about Hansen’s disease control activities in Brazil, including health policy and clinical practice.
Speaking in my capacity as chairman of The Nippon Foundation and WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, I told the participants that I was pleased to be part of the first such seminar providing Japanese doctors and healthcare specialists, including those working at national sanatoriums for persons affected by Hansen’s disease, with an opportunity to learn about the current state of Hansen’s disease medical care in the Latin American country.
I expressed my appreciation to the Brazilian presenters, for whom the seminar was taking place on Saturday evening, Brazil time (Sunday morning in Japan). Among these were Dr. Ciro Martins Gomes of the Health Ministry’s Department of Diseases of Chronic Conditions and Sexually Transmitted Infections and also a full-time dermatology professor of the University of Brasília, who lectured on the nation’s 2019-2022 National Strategy to Combat Hansen’s Disease, and Dr. Miguel Aragon Lopez of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/WHO, who talked about the WHO’s collaboration with the Brazilian government, touching upon the country’s zero-leprosy road map that he said will be aligned with the WHO Global Leprosy Strategy 2021-2030 now being finalized by member countries. The WHO strategy is more ambitious than ever, shifting the paradigm towards “zero leprosy”, which includes zero leprosy-related disability and zero discrimination.
I was also impressed by the remarks of Dr. Paula Soares Brandão, a volunteer of Morhan and a professor of the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Rio de Janeiro, who referred to “Telehansen,” a nationwide toll-free telephone counseling service Morhan has been operating since 1988 with the assistance of The Nippon Foundation. It makes it possible for those in remote areas to seek consultation for symptoms and find out about treatment.
In Japan, Hansen’s disease is now rare, with only a few imported cases reported by the government each year. But it is an ongoing infectious disease in Brazil and many other countries around the world.
In 2019, around 28,000 people were newly diagnosed with Hansen’s disease in Brazil−the second-largest number in the world after India. It remains the only country with a population of over 1 million that has yet to achieve the elimination of Hansen’s disease as a public health problem−with elimination defined by the WHO as a prevalence rate of less than one case per 10,000 persons.
In March this year, my scheduled trip to Brazil was called off when the National Hansen’s Disease Summit 2020 that I was to attend had to be postponed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The summit is on hold, but The Nippon Foundation and the Sasakawa Health Foundation stand ready to assist with preparations when it can be rescheduled, hopefully at the earliest opportunity.
It is my sincere hope that the Japanese doctors and healthcare professionals who joined the seminar have developed a greater understanding of Hansen’s disease medical care in Brazil and that some of them may in the future have the opportunity to cooperate with the country on initiatives to achieve zero leprosy.
【Yohei Sasakawa Around the World】 (6) Visit to Nepal in 2010 [2020/12/22]
I would like to share with you a video taken during my visit to Nepal in January 2010 as chairman of The Nippon Foundation and WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination. During my visit I attended a ceremony in Kathmandu at which Nepal announced that it had officially achieved the goal of eliminating leprosy as a public health problem at the end of 2009, defined by the WHO as a reduction in the prevalence rate to below one case per 10,000 population.
Among the world’s poorest countries, Nepal was confronting tremendous political and economic challenges as it struggled to find its feet as a republic following years of civil war that brought down the monarchy. That it was able to achieve the elimination goal under these circumstances was all the more praiseworthy.
Ten years on, what is the situation in Nepal today? While remaining below the elimination threshold, the prevalence rate has shown a tendency to increase as the country carries out more active case finding in recent years. At the subnational level, elimination has yet to be achieved in 17 out of 77 districts.
The country has drafted a roadmap to zero leprosy and has plans to align this with the forthcoming WHO global leprosy strategy for 2021-2030.
Nepal remains one of the WHO’s 23 global priority countries for leprosy, reporting 3,844 new cases in 2019.
60% of Young Japanese See Japan’s Low Food Self-sufficiency Rate as a Problem [2020/12/16]
Q: Do you consider Japan’s low food self-sufficiency rate (38%) to be a problem?”
Almost 60% (59.8%) of young people in Japan consider the nation’s low food self-sufficiency rate to be a problem, with a large majority of them (77.9%) expressing concern that the country would not be able to cope if there was a food shortage.
These are the findings of a nationwide online survey The Nippon Foundation conducted from October 9 to 14 on the subject of “New Foods,” covering 1,000 Japanese aged between 17 and 19.
Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate on a calories-supply basis stood at 38% in fiscal 2019, meaning it depends on imports for much more than half of its domestic food consumption.
Asked what should be done to better prepare the nation for food shortages, respondents said Japan needs to revitalize its agriculture (23.6%), change consumers’ mindsets (13.6%) and secure labor force for food production (11.8%).
The survey also found that one in four young Japanese (25.2%) said their diet and eating habits have changed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Of these, more than one in eight (84.5%) said that they are eating out less often, while nearly two in three (65.1%) said they are spending more time having meals with family.
Asked whether they see the possibilities of technological innovation in food, close to 40% (38.6%) answered in the affirmative, with top areas of potential applications of innovation being to reduce food waste (70.2%), create better-tasting meals (56.2%), and develop more environmentally friendly industries (52.3%).
On possible alternative sources of protein, close to one third (32.6%) named meat substitutes and insect-based food products as future food sources. Queried whether they would want to try such substitute food products, 43.3% said they are interested in trying meat substitutes and 16.2% in sampling insect-based food products.
Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate based on a calories-supply basis peaked above 70% in 1965, but has been on a constant decline since to stand at 38% in fiscal 2019, ranking around 100th in the world. The rate shows how much domestic consumption is met by domestic production.
The poll followed reports that almost 20 countries, including Russia, India and Vietnam, started restricting their exports of wheat and rice as they try to ease pressure on the domestic market amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Trade Organization (WTO) in its regulations allows member states to impose trade restrictions on food products when faced with dire food shortages.
The respondents of the survey acknowledged that such export restrictions are inevitable as countries have no choice but to put domestic needs first.
In March this year, the Japanese Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry delayed the target year of raising the nation’s food self-sufficiency rate to 45% from fiscal 2025 to fiscal 2030.
As many experts say, one of the pillars of our national security is a sufficient supply of safe and affordable food. The COVID-19 pandemic seems to indicate the urgent need for Japan to look anew into how to revitalize its agriculture−a sector long considered to be in structural decline.
Q: Have your diet and eating habits changed as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic? Q: Of respondents whose diet and eating habits had changed, in which of the following ways have your diet and eating habits changed as a result of the novel coronavirus? Q: Do you see possibilities for technological innovation in food? Q: Do you see meat substitutes and insect-based food products as future food sources? Q: Would you be interested in trying meat substitutes?Q: Would you be interested in trying insect-based food products?
The Nippon Foundation Launches Ocean and Lighthouse Project [2020/12/11]
Speaking at a press conference with Mr. Takahiro Okushima (right), Commandant of the Japan Coast Guard, at The Nippon Foundation in Tokyo on October 26, 2020, to announce the designation of “Ocean and Lighthouse Week.”
There are around 3,000 lighthouses all over Japan. They have been in operation since the last days of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the start of the Meiji Restoration in the latter part of the 19th century and have made an enormous contribution to Japan’s shipping industry and thus the country’s modernization.
But with the advent of global positioning systems (GPS) that harness satellite technology and other navigational aids, a growing number of lighthouses in Japan have completed their missions and are being phased out.
I believe it is incumbent on us to pass on to future generations their cultural, social and historical value as well as their beauty.
With this in mind, The Nippon Foundation joined forces with the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) to designate the week between November 1, or Lighthouse Day, and November 8 this year as “Ocean and Lighthouse Week,” during which commemorative events were held at 36 lighthouses across the country.
We also launched the “Ocean and Lighthouse Project,” involving 51 lighthouses from Hokkaido to Okinawa prefectures, working with 49 cities, towns and villages where they are located. Over the coming three years, we intend to expand the project by increasing the number of lighthouses involved to 80, pass on knowledge of the role and importance of lighthouses to future generations and help promote the development of local communities.
As more lighthouse are decommissioned, the Council for Cultural Affairs recommended on October 16 that the government designate four lighthouses, including Inubozaki Lighthouse in Choshi City, Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, as National Important Cultural Properties, making them the first lighthouses to be designated as such while still in operation. The recommendation is expected to be formalized by the end of the year.
The 49 cities, towns and villages are organized into a network called “towns in love with lighthouses” under The foundation’s National Lighthouse Cultural Value Creation Project, with the campaign to reassess the value of lighthouses spreading across the country.
Speaking at a press conference on October 26 to announce the designation of “Ocean and Lighthouse Week,” I expressed my hope that young people in Japan will understand the history of how lighthouses have safeguarded the nation’s shipping and contributed to Japan’s development.
Mr. Takahiro Okushima, Commandant of the Japan Coast Guard, also told reporters he is hopeful that by allowing local communities to make partial use of lighthouse facilities, more people will come to appreciate them.
Lighthouse Day was designated in 1949 to commemorate the start of construction of Japan’s first western-style lighthouse, Kannonzaki Lighthouse, in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, on November 1, 1868. Starting with “Ocean and Lighthouse Week,” we plan to encourage greater interest in lighthouses by, among other things, conducting a survey on the use of lighthouses and convening a “lighthouse summit.”
Lighthouses have featured in numerous films, books and popular songs both domestically and internationally, such as the movie “Years of Joy and Sorrow” (1957, directed by Keisuke Kinoshita) and the song "Midare Gami" (“messy hair”) sung by Hibari Misora.
According to a survey conducted by The Nippon Foundation this summer covering 1,050 men and women all over Japan, 62% of the respondents replied that they have visited lighthouses. It seems they tend to connect with them on an emotional level, as indicated by this reply: “They calm my mind.”
My intention through the projects we are undertaking is to focus people’s attention on their historical role and cultural value−to “shine a light,” so to speak, on lighthouses.
at 11:07 | OCEAN
Visiting Rakhine State, I Hear Voices of People Wishing to Vote to Elect Their Representatives (2) [2020/12/08]
Talking with a lady selling rice at a Muslim bazaar in Buthidaung Township of Rakhine State in western Myanmar on November 28, 2020. On November 28, I flew by helicopter from the state capital of Sittwe to my first destination of the day, Kyauk Taw, which until recently often saw armed clashes between the military and the Arakan Army (AA).
A 15-minute drive from the airport took me into the town center. With the help of my interpreter, I talked with as many people as possible−men and women, young and old−about the security situation in the state and their expectation for holding elections after voting there was cancelled for the November 8 election. They unanimously welcomed the prospect of a peaceful life following the AA’s statement and expressed a desire to elect their representatives from the state.
I then flew on to Buthidaung, the scene of fierce fighting until recently. Whoever I asked, the answer was the same: they wanted an end to the armed conflict. I visited a bazaar run by the Muslims, a minority in the majority-Buddhist nation of Myanmar. It was bigger than I had expected, but at midday it was not so busy. I asked the people I met there if they were planning to vote, but they all shook their heads. I was told later that they do not have voting rights. Due to time and geographical constraints, I stopped short of visiting rural areas.
Back in Sittwe, I met with the leaders of the Arakan National Party (ANP), one of Myanmar’s strongest ethnic political parties, and discussed the possibility of holding elections in those nine townships where voting had not taken place.
I then held a press conference attended by reporters representing 21 media outlets. I told them that as a result of my observations during my visit to the state, I believed it is possible to hold elections in all the nine townships, expressing my intent to call on the Union Election Commission (UEC) to have balloting take place at an early date. I also announced that The Nippon Foundation will provide $200,000 worth of emergency assistance in the form of food and other goods for internally displaced persons (IDP) in the state and that this will be transported by the military.
My press conference was broadcast live on television. As I arrived back at my hotel in Nay Pyi Taw shortly past 5 p.m., Ambassador Maruyama told me that hundreds of thousands of people watched the broadcast and that he saw messages saying “Thank you, Mr. Sasakawa!” and “Good luck, Mr. Sasakawa!” He also predicted that the front pages of Myanmar’s newspapers the following morning would be filled with stories on my visit to Rakhine State. He turned out to be right as I saw the top stories of several influential morning papers were all about my Rakhine tour.
At 8 a.m. on November 29, I underwent another PCR test. This one was particularly painful, due probably to the nurse’s lack of experience, but I cheered up when I noticed that the medical staff from the Myanmar Health Ministry had come to the hotel in a vehicle donated by The Nippon Foundation. Once again, I went into quarantine at the hotel−albeit only for a day−until the result came through.
My team was escorted by a military vehicle. Downtown of Kyauk Taw, Rakhine State. I tried to talk with as many people as possible in the downtown of Kyauk Taw, Rakhine State. Talking with a lady attending a store. Talking with local residents at a port of Buthidaung Township, Rakhine State. Instructed by his father, a Muslim boy is using a sewing machine in a Muslim bazaar. With members of the Defense Services of Myanmar who flew us to Rakhine State townships. Speaking at a press conference joined by journalists from more than 20 news outlets, including television stations which broadcast the event live. Also attending the session was Japanese Ambassador to Myanmar Ichiro Maruyama (far left). The medical staff of the Myanmar Health Ministry drove this vehicle, donated by The Nippon Foundation before, to my hotel to administer PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests for the novel coronavirus.
Visiting Rakhine State, I Hear Voices of People Wishing to Vote to Elect Their Representatives (1) [2020/12/07]
Boarding a military plane assigned by the Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar’s Defense Service Senior General Min Aung Hlaing for my flight to Rakhine State on November 28, 2020. The aim was to explore the possibility of holding elections in areas where voting was cancelled in the November 8 general election due to security reasons.
Armed with a certificate of a negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test conducted the previous day, I left Tokyo for Yangon on November 25. This followed my earlier visit to Myanmar as head of the Japanese government’s special delegation to observe Myanmar’s November 8 general election, only the second following half a century of military rule.
It was an honor for me to be met at the airport by Japanese Ambassador to Myanmar Ichiro Maruyama. I then went to a hotel in the city where I underwent a one-day quarantine for the novel coronavirus−much shorter than the week-long “confinement” I experienced during my previous trip−out of “special consideration.”
On the morning of November 26, I received a PCR test at the hotel. It was rather painful, with an inexperienced-looking nurse inserting a long swab deep inside my nose and throat.
At 5:30 a.m. the following day, I left Yangon in the ambassador’s car on a 4.5-hour drive to the capital of Nay Pyi Taw. Checking in at the hotel, it looked like no other guests were staying there.
At 1:30 p.m., I had a one-on-one meeting with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services of Myanmar, to discuss the possibility of holding elections in the nine townships in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine where the Union Election Commission (UEC) cancelled voting on November 8 due to the fighting between the military and the Arakan Army (AA), an armed ethnic minority group in the state.
In recent years, the armed conflict between the military and the AA has intensified, affecting hundreds of thousands of local residents. Fortunately, after I contacted them through organizations and some people I know, the Arakan Army issued a statement on November 12, requesting the union government and the military to hold elections in those nine townships. Within hours, the military issued a statement, welcoming the AA request.
Both the military and the AA promised not to engage in any military operations in the state until elections are held there. Heartened up by these positive developments, I asked the Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to help me make a tour of Rakhine State as the head of the election observer mission and Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in Myanmar. He readily accepted my request.
As no transportation was available due to the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, I had no choice but to rely on the military. The Commander-in-Chief quickly arranged for me to use military aircraft on my visit to the Rakhine townships.
At 7 a.m. on November 28, I took off aboard a military plane for the state capital of Sittwe.
(To be continued)