Ousted Myanmar Leader Suu Kyi’s Japanese Sword Restored, Ready to be Returned [2021年11月26日（Fri）]
A group of craftspeople in the western Japanese prefecture of Okayama has finished restoring a Japanese sword owned by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who was taken into custody when Myanmar’s military seized power from her civilian government on February 1.
The Nippon Foundation, which entrusted the group with the task on her behalf, will keep the sword until it becomes possible to return it to her.
Before the takeover, Ms. Suu Kyi approached Japanese Ambassador to Myanmar Ichiro Maruyama, asking for help in getting the badly rusted sword refurbished. The envoy then asked The Nippon Foundation to help.
Responding to Ms. Suu Kyi’s request, the foundation consulted the city government of Setouchi in Okayama Prefecture, an area famed for its sword craftsmanship, and arranged for a workshop in the Bizen Osafune Sword Museum in the city to handle the restoration work.
The blade was created by Mr. Sadatsugu Takahashi (1902-1968), a master swordsmith of Okayama Prefecture, who was designated by the Japanese government as a holder of Important Intangible Cultural Property known as a “Living National Treasure.”
In 1942, during World War II, it was donated by a major Japanese national daily, the Asahi Shimbun, to Imperial Japanese Army Lieutenant General Shojiro Iida, who had been appointed commander of Japanese forces that occupied the country then known as Burma.
The sword subsequently changed hands to General Aung San, who was a hero of the country’s independence movement−first against British rule and later Japanese occupation. He was Ms. Suu Kyi’s father.
Before he was assassinated in 1947, the general told his daughter it was “a gift from a Japanese officer.” The sword was believed ever since to have been in Ms. Suu Kyi’s possession as a treasure from Japan. Over the years, however, the sword’s condition had deteriorated considerably, probably due to the conditions under which it was stored.
It took the Okayama craftsmen about a year to finish repairing the sword and they did an excellent job. Now that it has been handed it back to the foundation, I made it known at a press conference in Yangon on November 18 during a private visit to Myanmar that we will keep the sword for the time being, ready to return it to Ms. Suu Kyi whenever it becomes possible.
An artisan who worked on the project said he wished the sword will “serve as a bridge between Japan and Myanmar.” I sincerely hope that peace returns to the Southeast Asian country at an early date so we can give the sword back to Ms. Suu Kyi.
“Silent Diplomacy” toward Myanmar (2) [2021年05月27日（Thu）]
In Myanmar, the government and the military have been engaged in fighting Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) on and off for more than seven decades. There are many conflicts around the world, but I don’t know of any other nation where the fighting has continued for as long as in Myanmar.
The Japanese government appointed me, a civilian, as its Special Envoy for National Reconciliation in Myanmar, in recognition of years of my humanitarian and other activities in the Southeast Asian country. For example, The Nippon Foundation has built hundreds of schools mainly for children of ethnic minorities, helped the nation in its fight against leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, since the 1970s, and provided vocational training, hygiene guidance and food assistance. The position of special envoy has no fixed term.With about 135 ethnic groups, Myanmar is not a straightforward “country” in the way that people in Japan and other nations might think. EAOs have undergone repeated alignment and realignment. Buddhist monks have a strong say on politics, while peoples in Karen and Kachin states are mostly Christians. Besides, there are Muslims in some parts of the country as well.My job is to interact and listen to each one of these groups to encourage them to sit down at the negotiating table with the government and the military. Above all, it is to win the trust of all those stakeholders. In a country such as Myanmar where people value saving face, I make a point of being extra careful about what I say as my remarks receive a lot of attention.I am determined to keep working to the best of my ability to complete my mission as the Special Envoy of the Government of Japan in order to attain the ultimate goal of creating a democratic Federal Republic that will emerge in the future for national reconciliation and Union peace. This is exactly what General Aung San, father of deposed State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, dreamed of.Whatever criticisms and smears I might face, I will keep working every day in an effort to help resolve the current situation in which Myanmar finds itself. To complete my mission, I will stick firmly to “silent diplomacy.”In 2020, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi commissioned The Nippon Foundation to help restore a Japanese sword her father had been presented with by the Imperial Japanese Army during the war, before he became the founding father of the modern-day Myanmar. There has been steady progress in the restoration work being undertaken by sword-polishers in Okayama Prefecture, western Japan. I believe a time will come when I can return her father’s sword to her in person.Numerous news outlets, both foreign and domestic, have asked to interview me on Myanmar, but I have turned all of them down. For this, I would like to offer my sincere apologies.If you are interested, please read the following:(1) Japanese Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu’s statement on ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting issued on April 27, 2021:ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting (Statement by Minister for Foreign Affairs MOTEGI Toshimitsu) | Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (mofa.go.jp)(2) An AP story on the May 14 release of a Japanese journalist who was detained in Myanmar:https://apnews.com/article/myanmar-tokyo-japan-journalists-7e90e258489afe0609798a621b5b776d(3) A report titled “From Elections to Ceasefire in Myanmar’s Rakhine State” published on December 23, 2020, by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, focusing on my activities in the wake of the country’s general elections in November.https://www.crisisgroup.org/asia/south-east-asia/myanmar/b164-elections-ceasefire-myanmars-rakhine-state
“Silent Diplomacy” Toward Myanmar (1) [2021年05月26日（Wed）]
I have been under fire from overnight experts on Myanmar and those on social networks who ask: “Why doesn’t Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in Myanmar, criticize that country’s military for seizing power on February 1?“
I recall what prominent Swedish diplomat Gunnar Jarring (1907-2002), the first chairman of The Scandinavia-Japan Sasakawa Foundation, said, stressing the need to pursue “silent diplomacy” when confronted with a challenging mission.
Ambassador Jarring, dubbed the Silent Swede because of his talent for quiet diplomacy, served as Swedish ambassador to the United States and the Soviet Union, as well as U.N. special representative to the Middle East in an attempt to solve the Arab-Israeli deadlock. “Although he alienated journalists with his public aloofness, Jarring was known as an ideal mediator and an adept practitioner of the art of diplomatic tightrope walking,” said the Los Angeles Times.
On March 10, 1945, when I was six years old, I miraculously survived the U.S. firebombing raid on Tokyo during World War II. I took hold of the hands of my ailing mother, who had a high fever, and we somehow escaped the bombs as they rained down. The three-hour raid killed about 108,000 people and destroyed my school and countless other buildings in downtown Tokyo. I will never forget finding the bodies of our neighbors and attaching nametags to them. I felt like I had experienced a living hell. Since then, I have lived with a strong desire to realize a world where everyone can live in peace and security.
Based on that experience, I have worked relentlessly since the Myanmar military took power on February 1 to persuade its leaders to give top priority to respecting human life. Nevertheless, what has happened since is extremely deplorable and leaves me shocked and disturbed.
If that’s so, people ask, then why don’t I issue a statement condemning the military? True, I am Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in Myanmar. Since I took up the post in 2013, I have worked tirelessly to mediate a ceasefire between the government, the military and about 20 ethnic armed organizations (EAO). To build up mutual trust between EAO leaders, most of whom have fled to Thailand, and other stakeholders, I have visited the country and the region about 130 times as the Japanese government’s special envoy.
Typically, I leave Narita International Airport at around midnight, arrive in Thailand or Myanmar around dawn and interact with the EAO leaders and/or Myanmar government and military leaders until around 6 p.m. I then fly back to Japan, arriving in Narita the following morning and going straight to work at The Nippon Foundation, thus skipping any hotel accommodation.
Up until the military takeover, I had helped the Myanmar government and the military sign Nationwide Ceasefire Agreements (NCA) with 10 EAOs, while negotiations with the remaining 10 EAOs had as yet failed to produce tangible progress.
(To be continued)
New Developments in Myanmar Could Open the Way for Supplementary Elections in Rakhine State (2) [2021年01月18日（Mon）]
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年01月15日（Fri）]
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.
Visiting Rakhine State, I Hear Voices of People Wishing to Vote to Elect Their Representatives (2) [2020年12月08日（Tue）]
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年12月07日（Mon）]
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)
Back in Myanmar to Push for By-elections in Ethnic Minority States [2020年11月27日（Fri）]
Myanmar’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, led by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, won the November 8 general election by a landslide.
The election was only the second competitive national poll in the Southeast Asian nation after some 50 years of military rule.
As head of the Japanese government’s election observer mission, I visited 10 polling stations in and around Yangon to observe voting and ballot-counting amid the lockdown restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As I reported in my blog on November 18, I told an online press conference with local Myanmar and Japanese reporters on November 9 that based on my observations and other reports we received, the election was organized peacefully in a free and fair manner.
However, in some areas of the country that are home to ethnic minorities, including Rakhine and Shan states, voting was cancelled ahead of time due to security reasons. So, at my meeting with Chairman U Hla Thein of the Union Election Commission (UEC) in the capital of Nay Pyi Taw on November 6, I stressed the importance of holding by-elections in those areas and he promised they would take place−providing, that is, the security situation there has stabilized.
I made a similar plea when I talked with Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing in the capital before and after the election and discussed the issue with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi at our meeting on November 10.
After I came back to Japan, I received an urgent message from Myanmar that they need my cooperation to hold the by-elections. I accepted the request, believing “knowing what is right and not doing it is a want of courage” as I wrote here previously quoting an old Japanese saying. I thus left Tokyo and arrived in Yangon on November 25.
Myanmar is a country I have visited some 130 times in my capacity as Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in Myanmar and chairman of The Nippon Foundation. I am determined to work to the best of my ability to live up to Myanmar’s expectation by working with all the stakeholders in the country to hold by-elections in the areas concerned.
I Observe Free and Fair General Election in Myanmar (2) [2020年11月19日（Thu）]
With State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi (right) in front of her residence in Nay Pyi Taw on November 10, 2020.
--Meeting with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi
On the morning of November 9, I received word through Japanese Ambassador to Myanmar Ichiro Maruyama that State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was ready to meet me in Nay Pyi Taw. After politely declining the offer from the Myanmar military to fly me there by helicopter, I left Yangon at 5:30 a.m. the following day on the five-hour drive to the capital, accompanied by the ambassador.
The state counsellor was waiting for me at her residence. Amid media reports that her ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) had claimed a resounding victory in the parliamentary election, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was extremely calm. She underscored the importance of realizing a comprehensive ceasefire with all the ethnic armed organizations, asking for my further cooperation to achieve that goal.
I thus became the first foreign visitor the state counsellor received after the election. The meeting was reported widely by local and international media outlets as well as on social media. The ambassador and I also received a multitude of inquiries about my conversation with Ms. Suu Kyi from foreign embassies. I was pleased that Japan’s presence in the country was well recognized by not only the people of Myanmar but also foreign diplomatic missions and international organizations.
Later in the day, I met again with Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and discussed the military’s efforts to ensure a free and fair election on November 8 and Japan’s ongoing support for Myanmar’s peace process and democratic nation-building.
The following is the text of a statement issued by the Office of the State Counsellor on November 11 about my meeting with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. The report of our exchange is a little overstated in parts, but let me share it with you for your information.
State Counsellor receives Japanese Special Envoy to Myanmar
State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi received Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in Myanmar, at her office in Nay Pyi Taw yesterday morning.
At the meeting, Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, congratulated for the successful holding of the multiparty general elections in Myanmar on November 8 peacefully in a free and fair manner, in line with the rules and guidelines for COVID-19 prevention; he also congratulated the National League for Democracy party led by the State Counsellor for winning the elections with the overwhelming support of the people.
He also said that after the elections, their government would provide support for the socio-economic development of the Myanmar people in all sectors; systematic containment measures against COVID-19 were found to be implemented during his visit to the polling stations; Japan would provide comprehensive and full support for Myanmar’s peacemaking process; his Nippon Foundation has been helping the people to be able to enjoy the peace dividends in the areas where ceasefire agreements have been reached; that they would try hard for achieving peace in Myanmar; he also expressed his belief that during the term of the new government strenuous efforts would be made for achieving peace in Myanmar.
State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi expressed thanks for the assistance of Japan in Myanmar’s peace process, and for the participation of the observer mission sent by the Government of Japan to observe the multiparty democracy elections of Myanmar.
She added that her government would exert further strenuous efforts on the peacemaking process. The call was also attended by Union Minister for the Office of the State Counsellor U Kyaw Tint Swe and Japanese Ambassador to Myanmar Mr. Ichiro Maruyama.
(End of text)
I Observe Free and Fair General Election in Myanmar (1) [2020年11月18日（Wed）]
As the sun came up, long lines of voters wearing masks and face shields formed at a polling station in Yangon on November 8, 2020, observing social distancing guidelines amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. I visited 10 polling stations in and around the city as the head of the Japanese government special delegation to observe Myanmar’s general election.
After going through a week-long quarantine that included two PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests for the novel coronavirus at a Yangon hotel, I started work as head of the Japanese government’s special delegation to observe Myanmar’s general election on November 8.
This was the second time for me to head an election-observer team in Myanmar, a country I visit frequently in my capacity as Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in Myanmar and chairman of The Nippon Foundation. I previously observed the general election of 2015 that ended more than a half-century of military rule.
First, on November 5, I consulted with Japanese Ambassador to Myanmar Ichiro Maruyama as to how best my team and his embassy staff would work together in observing the election. I then made the five-hour drive to the capital, Nay Pyi Taw. (The Japanese embassy, along with other foreign missions, is located in Yangon.)
On the following day, I met with government and military leaders, including Mr. Kyaw Tint Swe, Union Minister for the Office of the State Counsellor, and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services of Myanmar, as well as Chairman U Hla Thein of the Union Election Commission (UEC), mainly to discuss the situation leading up to the November 8 election.
On election day, my team and I spent the whole day visiting 10 polling stations in and around Yangon to observe voting and ballot-counting in coordination with the ambassador and his staff. As the sun came up, long lines of voters wearing masks and face shields formed at polling stations in the country’s biggest city, observing social distancing guidelines amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.
To ensure a free and fair election, the Japanese government supplied 113,000 bottles of indelible ink that were distributed to all polling stations across the country. To prevent double-voting fraud, voters are required to ink a fingertip to show they have voted.
I saw some young men and women show off their ink-stained fingers, and many such pictures were posted on social networks and featured in other media.
Talking with a number of Myanmar voters, I found that despite some criticisms ahead of polling day, they were excited with the elections as they believed their votes could change their country’s situation.
Speaking at an online press conference with some 20 reporters of local Myanmar as well as Japanese media groups, I said that based upon my observations, the general election was organized peacefully in a free and fair manner. There were no major incidents or misdeeds reported, I added.
I commended the voters for their compliance with the rules and for their discipline at polling stations amid the fresh spike in COVID-19 cases in the country. At the same time, I acknowledged the UEC for the way it ran the election, setting up more polling stations than five years ago to make access to voting easier, which I believed has helped result in a high voter turnout despite the pandemic.
Ahead of the election, there were widespread concerns after voting was cancelled in some areas that are home to ethnic minorities due to security reasons. Quoting what I was told by the UEC, I said that I expected by-elections would be held in some areas of Rakhine and Shan states before long.
I believe that the election, only the second competitive national election since the end of military rule, marked an important step in the country’s democratic transition.
(To be continued)