Myanmar cancels voting for November elections in some ethnic minority areas

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Several areas of Myanmar will not be able to vote in November's elections, mostly parts of the country where restive ethnic minorities are dominant, state media reported Thursday.

State television said that the Election Commission had announced that "the elections will not be held in several constituencies where free and fair elections could not be held." It did not elaborate.

The announcement is the first sign from the government side that the country's first election in two decades may not go as smoothly as desired, despite its tight control over its organization and rules. Pro-democracy groups, as well as Western nations and human rights organizations, have already criticized the election as unfair and undemocratic, though the accusations have hardly ruffled the junta's confidence.

The announcement said the Nov. 7 elections had been canceled in several townships of the Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Mon and Shan states, including four townships in the Wa self-administered division.

Ethnic groups in those areas, which are mostly along the eastern and northern border, are at odds with the ruling junta over its insistence that they integrate their semi-autonomous security forces into the government's border guard forces.

The attitude of the ethnic minorities has posed a real threat, since the government is hard pressed to ensure security in some areas where ethnic guerrilla militias are strong. Many of the groups have sought more autonomy from the government since Myanmar's independence in 1948, and the government maintains uneasy cease-fires with them.

The Election Commission announced earlier this week that 37 political parties will contest the election. It said Tuesday that five established parties including detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy — which won a landslide victory in the last election in 1990, but was not allowed to take power by the military — and the second place party in the 1990 polls, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, have been dissolved for their failure to reregister.

The NLD decided to boycott the election, saying it was illegitimate and unfair. Among other official limitations, the recently enacted election laws would not allow Suu Kyi to run or even remain a member of her own party. The military-backed constitution already has clauses that would bar her from holding office.