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Myanmar 2015 elections – what to expect?

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28 Aug Myanmar 2015 elections – what to expect?

This year’s elections mark a significant milestone in Myanmar’s history.  There is a growing thirst for change in Myanmar, and the party that wins the popular vote will be tasked to set the tone for the future of democracy in the country. The future of Myanmar’s democratic trajectory is mainly contingent on two parties; the current ruling party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the National League for Democracy (NLD).

Both analysts and the Burmese public have speculated that the NLD has the potential to win in most of the contested constituencies due to popularity of NLD’s chairperson Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. However, despite her popularity, the NLD’s decision to exclude certain high profile candidates, including U Ko Ko Gyi has called into question the party’s ability to dominate the elections. The NLD’s decision to exclude him alongside others has outraged both the party’s supporters and other candidates within the NLD. This could potentially weaken the party’s unity, leading to a potential fragmentation within the NLD. As such, the NLD is now under pressure to maintain a united front, rallying support from other parties or risk the USDP forming a majority in parliament.

The ruling USDP only requires 26 per cent of parliamentary seats to form a new government, as they would be likely supported by the military. As per Myanmar’s 2008 constitution, the military holds 25 per cent of seats in parliament. As the USDP’s leadership is largely comprised of former military officers who were part of the military regime, it is extremely likely that the USDP and military would join forces to form the majority in parliament. The NLD’s ability to form its own majority in parliament is fundamentally threatened by the potential alliance between the USDP and the military.

However, President Thein Sein’s overnight decision to remove U Shwe Mann as USDP chairman – with President Thein Sein taking the chairmanship himself – has stirred a polemic debate in Myanmar, jeopardising USDP’s popularity. This might also have a positive spillover effect for the NLD, as the NLD has built a seemingly good relationship with U Shwe Mann over the past few years. U Shwe Mann is also seen as a pro-democratic leader, and the alignment between his views and the NLD could create opportunities for the NLD to win more seats in the elections. U Shwe Mann is likely to support NLD by using his remaining power in parliament as the speaker of the lower house and patron of the union parliament. In addition, he is also equipped with the knowledge to help Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in strategic planning as he is aware of the inner workings of the USDP and the military.

Myanmar’s upcoming election has been in the spotlight, garnering the attention of global observers. However, despite the potential promise that this election may hold, it is important for observers to match their expectations with the pace of Myanmar’s opening. As much as this election may be a poignant chapter in Myanmar’s history, the country’s reform process has thus far been gradual. Myanmar’s democratization process will also take time to fully mature.

Sources:

Myanmar’s Elections: Jostling for Power [The Diplomat, 20 Aug 2015]

Conservatives in Myanmar Force Out Leader of Ruling Party  [The New York Times, 13 Aug 2015]

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