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Yohei Sasakawa
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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)
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 16:20 | MYANMAR | URL | comment(0)