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Myanmar’s cancelled by-elections

12 Sep Myanmar’s cancelled by-elections

The decision to scrap Myanmar’s by-elections at the end of this year came as a surprise to the country’s political parties, who had been gearing up to contest the 35 empty seats in Parliament.

However, there is nothing political behind the election commission’s decision to cancel the by-elections – according to the SIIA’s contacts on the ground in Myanmar. The National League of Democracy’s (NLD) opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has also welcomed the decision, with her party’s spokesman saying that there has not been “enough time to prepare” for the by-elections.

But questions have risen about whether the Union Election Commission (UEC) is truly independent from Myanmar’s ruling party. Opposition parties, especially those from the violence-prone Rakhine State and Kachin State, have also raised the need to re-examine the UEC’s decision-making process, to ensure that Myanmar will have a free and fair general election in 2015.

Reasons behind the cancellation

While abrupt, the UEC, which was formed in 2010, says its decision to cancel Myanmar’s by-elections is not without grounds. The body announced in a statement that it had only made the decision after consulting with “concerned individuals and organisations”.

The UEC explained that Myanmar, as ASEAN Chair, needs to focus its efforts on organising upcoming high-profile ASEAN meetings such as the 25th ASEAN Summit and the 9th East Asia Summit that will be held in Nay Pyi Taw. US President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian leader Narendra Modi, among other leaders, are expected to attend the EAS meeting.

The commission also cited the high costs of holding by-elections, estimated at 2 billion Kyat (S$2.53 million), as a reason for cancelling the vote. With only a year left leading up to the 2015 General elections, newly-elected Members of Parliament would sit for only a short term before they would have to be re-elected again. This would constitute a waste of time, effort and money, not only for Myanmar, but also the country’s nearly 70 political parties.

Larger implications

Notably, this is not the first time that the UEC has changed its mind. Originally, the UEC had announced that Myanmar would not hold a by-election this year, but later backtracked and scheduling them for the end of the year. Now they have been called off again. The by-elections were supposed to give an indication of which political parties would likely win the popular vote in the 2015 General Elections.

When the country first held its first by-elections in 2012, the NLD won 43 out of 44 contested seats. The opposition party’s landslide victory gave a clear indication of Myanmar’s preferred political party at that time.

The commission’s indecisiveness on whether to hold a by-election is unusual. It does not help that this is not the first time that the body’s independence and impartiality has being called into question. The by-elections might have limited political significance on the decision-making processes of Myanmar’s Parliament, but to the rest of the Myanmar population and the international community, a vote at the end of this year would have given a clearer indication of how far the country has progressed since its political opening.


Myanmar Cancels By-Elections in Move Welcomed by Suu Kyi’s NLD [Radio Free Asia, 8 September 2014]

Political parties condemn decision to cancel by-elections [Mizzima, 8 September 2014]

Burmese MPs react differently to cancellation of by-elections [DVB, 8 September 2014]

Photo Credit: Htoo Tay Zar