Myanmar By-Election Voters Voice Disappointment in Ruling Party of Aung San Suu Kyi

2018-11-05
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A Myanmar voter checks the voters' list for by-elections at a polling station in Yangon, Nov. 3, 2018.
A Myanmar voter checks the voters' list for by-elections at a polling station in Yangon, Nov. 3, 2018.
AFP

Myanmar’s ruling National League for Democracy faced voter disappointment in the country’s by-elections on Nov. 3, winning six of 13 contested seats up for grabs in state, regional, and national parliaments, while candidates from parties representing ethnic minorities made a strong showing in some border regions, preliminary results indicated on Monday.

The results from the polls, in which 1 million people were eligible to cast ballots, were all in except for one of the races. The eligible seats included four in the lower house of the Union parliament, one in the upper house of the Union parliament, seven in state and regional parliaments, and the Shan ethnic affairs minister’s seat in Mandalay region.

Sixty-nine candidates from 24 political parties contested for seats in Chin, Shan, Kachin, and Rakhine states and in Yangon, Sagaing, Bago, Magway, and Mandalay regions, with seven of the candidates running as independents, according to the online journal The Irrawaddy.

One of the most highly contested votes was in Myitkyina, capital of northern Myanmar’s Kachin state, where the ethnic Kachin political parties went up against the NLD and main opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) for a vacant seat in the upper house of parliament in the town’s No. 2 constituency.

Nearly 203,300 eligible voters cast ballots for six candidates at more than 100 polling stations in wards in Myikyina and village-tracts in the township, according to the Myanmar News Agency. About 4,000 people submitted ballots in advance of the by-election.

Those running for the seat included candidates from the NLD, USDP, Kachin Democratic Party (KDP), Red Shan (Tailai) and Northern Shan Ethnics Solidarity Party, Union Nationalities Federal Democracy Party (UNFDP), and an independent candidate, the Myanmar news Agency report said.

After USDP candidate Si Hu Dwai was reported as the winner, three other candidates from the NLD, KDP, and UNFDP refused to sign off on the results, raising doubts about the validity of early ballots submitted by soldiers.

The Union Election Commission, Myanmar’s top electoral body, is not authorized to check these advance ballots, Tun Aung Khine, Kachin state’s election commission officer told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

Nevertheless, the commission confirmed and released the result without their signatures, he said, adding that the USDP won with more than 20,000 votes in the constituency.

The KDP’s candidate, Gumgrawng Awng Kham, received the second-highest number of votes followed by the NLD’s candidate, Yang Hkawn.

The by-elections came at a time when Myanmar’s ethnic minority groups have soured on the NLD and on State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi whose main priority has been to end 70 years of civil war, much of which has raged in Kachin and neighboring Shan state.

More than 100,000 civilians have been displaced by hostilities in Kachin state alone since 2011 when a 17-year bilateral cease-fire between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the region’s dominant ethnic armed group, and the Myanmar army broke down.

Ethnic minority groups have also become disillusioned with the government’s failure to forge a federal democratic union in the country with constitutional guarantees for greater autonomy for them.

Disappointed with government

Overall voter turnout has been estimated to be the same as it was in the last by-elections in 2017, which was about 34 percent, according to the online journal Frontier Myanmar.

NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt said not many people voted in the by-elections because they are disappointed with the government.

“They expected they would have more development in a short time [after the NLD came into power in 2016], but this dream hasn’t come true, and they are depressed,” he told RFA.

“They are not satisfied with the current political and social situations, and they think the current government’s efforts are not enough,” he said.

Political analyst Aung Thu Nyane agreed.

“People are not that interested in voting,” he said. “It might be because of the by-elections, but since the previous by-elections [in 2017], fewer voters are voting, and this is not a good sign for a democratic country.

Both the government and the political parties should work more for the people so they will be interested in voting, he said.

Elsewhere, the USDP won three of the 10 seats it contested that were previously held by the NLD.

The NLD won general elections in 2015 by a landslide, getting more than 80 percent of the seats not reserved for the military in the Union parliament.

The next general elections will be held in 2020, and ethnic parties could have a stronger showing, some political analysts say.

Reported by Thiri Min Zin for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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