Karela Fry

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By-election in Myanmar

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Ahead of the by-election, the weekly newspaper Myanmar Times wrote:

On April 1, some might expect a repeat of the 1990 election, when the NLD [Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy] won more than 80 percent of all seats. That might happen but the dynamics of the by-elections are markedly different from both 1990 and 2010. Obviously, it’s not a nationwide poll, and in 1990 the vote was for a constitutional assembly (to draft a new constitution) rather than a legislative assembly, or parliament. This time the NLD also faces very different opponents, in the form of the USDP [Union Solidarity and Development Party] and NDF [National Democratic Force]. The latter was formed by ex-NLD members who disagreed with the party’s decision to boycott the 2010 election and, led by U Khin Maung Swe and Dr Than Nyein, both of whom were once NLD executive members, it won 16 seats.

In his party’s policy speech on MRTV recently, U Khin Maung Swe said his party stood up for voters who otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance to vote for an opposition party candidate in the 2010 general election. “We’re a party that kept loyal to the people by giving them the chance to vote for these progressive changes” in the 2010 election, he said.

But the bitterness of the split between the NDF and NLD has left a bad taste in the mouths of many voters, and served as a reminder of the personal and ideological conflicts that have afflicted political parties in Myanmar for much of the past century.

The NLD’s decision to contest the April 1 by-elections has had a dramatic impact on Myanmar politics and many of the party’s 47 candidates are expected to win if the vote is free and fair, as the Union Election Commission has promised.

One question many are contemplating is what will result from its participation, once some of its candidates are elected to the hluttaws. A common thread running between the campaign speeches of most political parties was the pledge to carry out national reconciliation.

“It’s sometimes strange to see how their speeches and their actions are different,” said Ko Kyaw Nyi, a graduate student at Yangon Institute of Economics. “They just say national reconciliation because we all want it but then they bitterly fight with each other instead of looking for common ground. However, I support Daw Aung Suu Kyi’s decision to take part in this election [because it shows pragmatism].”

In her recent campaign tour, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that she would work with the army to institute real democratic changes, perhaps referring to the appointed military representatives in parliament, as required by the 2008 constitution.

While the “national reconciliation” line – or some variant – is trotted out by political parties ahead of every election, many are hopeful that this time will be different and that the April 1 by-elections can provide a boost to the peace process. “I hope this election will result in a real national reconciliation process that could go some way to solving ethnic conflicts,” said Daw Khin Thandar, a primary school teacher from North Dagon township. “I also hope to see real democracy and I think both are more likely now that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is involved.”

Today various newspapers around the world report the expectation that Aung San Suu Kyi will be elected to the Myanmar parliament from the Kawhmu constituency south of Yangon. HT writes:

If confirmed, the win would mark a dramatic reversal in the political fortunes of the veteran activist, who was locked up by the former junta for most of the past 22 years. Official results were expected within a week.

Observers says Myanmar’s quasi-civilian government needs Suu Kyi to take a place in parliament to bolster the legitimacy of its political system and spur an easing of Western sanctions against the regime.

But even if her party were to win all 44 seats it contested in Sunday’s by-elections, it would not tip the balance of power in a parliament dominated by the military and its political allies.

The military dictatorship gave way to a stage-managed democracy in 2010. The Washington Post writes about how Myanmar has changed since then:

The topdown revolution has left Myanmar befuddled and wondering how it happened — or at least, why now? One theory says the military-backed regime had long been desperate for legitimacy and a lifting of Western sanctions, and its leadership had quietly recognized that their impoverished country, formerly known as Burma, had fallen far behind the rest of skyscraper-rich Asia.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

April 2, 2012 at 3:53 am

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