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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.


(End)
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 14:19 | MYANMAR | URL | comment(0)
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.

(More)
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:01 | MYANMAR | URL | comment(0)
Visiting Rakhine State, I Hear Voices of People Wishing to Vote to Elect Their Representatives (2) [2020年12月08日(Tue)]
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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.


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My team was escorted by a military vehicle.

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Downtown of Kyauk Taw, Rakhine State.


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I tried to talk with as many people as possible in the downtown of Kyauk Taw, Rakhine State.

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Talking with a lady attending a store.


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Talking with local residents at a port of Buthidaung Township, Rakhine State.

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Instructed by his father, a Muslim boy is using a sewing machine in a Muslim bazaar.

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With members of the Defense Services of Myanmar who flew us to Rakhine State townships.

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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).


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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.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 10:00 | MYANMAR | URL | comment(0)
Visiting Rakhine State, I Hear Voices of People Wishing to Vote to Elect Their Representatives (1) [2020年12月07日(Mon)]
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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)
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.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 15:03 | MYANMAR | URL | comment(0)
I Observe Free and Fair General Election in Myanmar (2) [2020年11月19日(Thu)]
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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)
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 10:00 | MYANMAR | URL | comment(0)
I Observe Free and Fair General Election in Myanmar (1) [2020年11月18日(Wed)]
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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)
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 10:07 | MYANMAR | URL | comment(0)
My Week-Long Quarantine in Yangon Hotel Room Prior to General Election in Myanmar [2020年11月05日(Thu)]
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A nurse administers my second PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test for COVID-19 during my week-long quarantine at a Yangon hotel ahead of Myanmar’s November 8 general election. I am visiting the country as the head of a team of election observers.


On November 2, the fifth day of my week-long quarantine in a Yangon hotel room amid a fresh spike in novel coronavirus cases in Myanmar, I was escorted to a big room by a female healthcare worker clad in personal protective equipment via an elevator for hotel employees, not guests.

I saw around 20 men and women led into the room one by one to sit on chairs placed in accordance with social-distancing guidelines, waiting to undergo a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test. Many of them looked fatigued after days of confinement in their rooms.

As with the first test I received on the second day of my stay (October 30), it took place outdoors and involved a nurse inserting a swab deep inside my nose and throat. After she finished, I was taken via the same elevator back to my room without little time to breathe in the outside air. The door shut with a bang and I was left alone in the room.

During this quarantine period, which came to an end in the morning of November 5, I was getting up at 6 a.m. every morning. I spent about an hour stretching and exercising before taking a bath. For my breakfast, I had a sunny-side-up egg and toast delivered to my door. It took me about 10 minutes to finish.  

My lunch consisted of water and whatever was left over from breakfast. For supper, I decided to forgo the opportunity to order from the menu of the Korean restaurant that I mentioned in my previous blog and dined on pre-cooked rice, supplied by a colleague from Tokyo who is accompanying me, with furikake seasoning sprinkled on top. As I did not want to put on weight during my confinement, I was content with these meals. 

I was not given a room key during my quarantine, meaning that if I left the room by myself I would be locked out. Shut up like this, I had never before so appreciated the value of fresh air.

Every day I spent reading the monthly magazines and books I brought from Tokyo. But at the age of 81, my vision blurs after about five hours, so I quietly closed my eyes and took a brief afternoon nap before applying some eye drops and resuming my reading. Despite all the time on my hands, I seldom meditated on anything. 

I flew from Tokyo to Yangon on October 29 to head the Japanese government’s special delegation for observing Myanmar’s general election on November 8. The ensuring seven-day quarantine has been a unique experience for me, but I am delighted that I am now allowed out and look forward to carrying out the task for which I have come. 



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Escorted by healthcare workers into a big room to wait for my PCR test.


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With the special tube used for the PCR test.


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Healthcare workers clad in personal protective equipment.


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Led to my PCR test by healthcare workers.


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My daily quarantine dinner of precooked rice with furikake seasoning sprinkled on top.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 10:43 | MYANMAR | URL | comment(0)
Arriving in Myanmar to Head Special Team to Observe General Elections on November 8 [2020年11月02日(Mon)]
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Arriving at a hotel in Yangon as head of the Japanese government’s special delegation to observe the general election in Myanmar on November 8, I was met by officials wearing personal protective equipment.



I arrived in Myanmar on October 29 as the head of the Japanese government’s special delegation to observe the Southeast Asian country’s general election on November 8.

Acting in my capacity as Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in Myanmar and chairman of The Nippon Foundation, this is the second time for me to head an election-observer team in the nation, following the previous poll in 2015.

As novel coronavirus cases continue to surge in Myanmar, putting the commercial center of Yangon under lockdown restrictions, I had second thoughts about visiting the country at one point. In the end, I decided to go ahead with the trip, believing that it is essential to have a free and fair election in Myanmar if its democratic reform is to make further progress. The Myanmar government’s request for me to observe the poll was also a factor. As an old Japanese saying goes, knowing what is right and not doing it is a want of courage.

Armed with a certificate of a negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test conducted within 36 hours of departure from Tokyo, I transitioned from Yangon International Airport to a downtown hotel. We were met in the lobby by officials clad in personal protective equipment (as shown in the photo above), who escorted me to my room via an elevator for hotel employees, not guests.

This marked the start of my week-long quarantine in the hotel room, where I am being treated as if I were a “suspect” potentially harboring the virus. The only food available is from a Korean restaurant, and I was a bit shocked to learn that I was going to be eating meat for the coming seven days. But for me, this is a golden opportunity to read books that I have been looking forward to.

At 8:30 the following morning, I was escorted by officials and healthcare professionals to undergo a PCR test. It was administered in rather businesslike fashion by a nurse, who inserted swab deep inside my nose and throat. When it was finished I was escorted back to the room where I was ordered to continue my quarantine. 

Despite the spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in Yangon and the government’s lockdown, I saw from the hotel window heavy traffic on the streets. But for me, the next few days would be spent quietly.

With the delegation consisting of fewer members than five years ago due to the lockdown measures amid the coronavirus pandemic, I expect our mission to be extremely challenging, but we will work with the cooperation of the Japanese Embassy in Myanmar in observing the elections.

I do not have much opportunity to meet with Myanmar leaders during my stay this time, but I am resolved to work as energetically as possible. 

I would also like to draw people’s attention to the fact that the Japanese government has provided special indelible ink to be supplied to all polling stations across the country to prevent double-voting fraud. At the polling stations five year ago, I still remember how merrily people chatted to each other by showing off their little finger stained with red ink as proof that they had voted.

This is only the second general election in Myanmar since the country emerged from outright military rule and how it is conducted is widely considered to be a crucial test of the country’s democratic reform. As the leader of this observer mission, I am determined to do whatever I can to ensure that the election is free, fair and transparent.
   

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A nurse administers a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test by reaching deep inside my nose and throat to extract sputum. 
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 15:43 | MYANMAR | URL | comment(0)
I Will Head Japan’s Election Observer Team in Myanmar in November [2020年09月10日(Thu)]
The Japanese government has decided to dispatch a special delegation to observe Myanmar’s general election on November 8 and has asked me, as Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in Myanmar, to head it. To ensure a free and fair election, Tokyo will also provide special ink to prevent double-voting fraud.

The decision was conveyed by Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi to Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s State Counsellor and Union Minister of Foreign Affairs, when they met in Nay Pyi Taw on August 24 on the last leg of his four-nation Pacific and Southeast Asian swing. This is the second time that I will head an election-observer team in Myanmar following the previous poll in 2015.

Mr. Motegi, the first foreign leader to visit Myanmar amid the travel restrictions due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, said that Japan will provide full-fledged support for the “democratic nation building of Myanmar” by bringing together the Japanese public and private sectors, according to a statement issued by the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

In response, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi expressed her appreciation for Japan’s assistance as well as her determination to ensure a democratic election.

At his separate meeting with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services of Myanmar, Minister Motegi said that “the Government of Japan, together with Special Envoy Sasakawa, will continue to support the advancement of Myanmar’s peace process.”  

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing responded by expressing his appreciation for Japan’s support for the peace process “led by Special Envoy Sasakawa.” 

With regard to the general election, Mr. Motegi expressed “his strong expectation that a free and fair election will be held with the cooperation of the Defense Services.” 

The Commander-in-Chief responded that the Defense Services would cooperate to that end.

I might add that Minister Motegi discussed with Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi the situation in Rakhine State, from where more than 700,000 Muslims have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, and said “Japan will fully support Myanmar’s own efforts to improve the situation.” 

He said he expected the investigation and prosecution of human rights abuses to proceed in a transparent manner based on the recommendations of the Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE), stressing the importance of steadily implementing the order on provisional measures issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and promptly repatriating displaced persons and creating an environment conducive to the repatriation of displaced persons.

The State Counsellor expressed her “appreciation for Japan’s understanding and support on the Rakhine issue.”

The Japanese minister, at his talks with Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, expressed his expectation for progress in the court martial’s investigation and prosecution of the incidents in Rakhine State under the Amendment Bill of Defense Services Act submitted to the Assembly of the Union.

The Senior General explained their efforts to solve the Rakhine issue and expressed his intention to continue to work as the Defense Services to solve the problem.

The Japanese government and The Nippon Foundation have supported Myanmar’s democratization for decades and I am fully aware that the November election is considered to be a crucial test of its democratic reform.

As the leader of the election observer team, I will do my best to ensure a free, fair and transparent election on the strength of, among other things, special indelible ink to be supplied to all polling stations across the country to prevent double-voting fraud. 

The idea to use this special ink, which is resistant to attempts to remove it using water, soap, home-cleansing, detergents, bleach, alcohol, or other organic solvents, was proposed by The Nippon Foundation.

I am convinced that a successful general election in the country will be a very important step toward achieving comprehensive peace among the government, the military and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), who have been feuding for the past seven decades since the end of World War II.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 10:00 | MYANMAR | URL | comment(0)
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