Following on from the 2003 announcement of the “Seven-step Roadmap to Democracy,” Myanmar will hold its first elections in two decades on 7 November 2010. Elections will be held to the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Union Assembly) made up of the Pyithu Hluttaw (People’s Assembly/lower house) and Amyotha Hluttaw (National Assembly/upper house). These elections will be held in accordance with the 2008 constitution of the country which mandates 25 per cent of seats both at national and regional level, to be allotted to the military. As a result, there are questions raised about the legitimacy of these elections. However, it is also quite possible that they may provide Myanmar with a base for future democratic evolution and prove to be a good thing after all.
It should come as no surprise that the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), headed by Prime Minister Thein Sein and the National Unity Party (NUP), an offshoot of the Burma Socialist Programme Party which was led by General Ne Win, are expected to emerge as the frontrunners in these elections. Nevertheless, it is an interesting exercise to study the mixed bag of political parties who will be giving them competition.
A total of 1,163 seats will be contested in the country, including both, national and regional parliaments. And it is clear from analyzing the candidates list that the USDP and NUP will be the biggest gainers of these elections since they are contesting in most of the constituencies. While the USDP has floated over 1,100 candidates, the NUP is not far behind with about 980. Out of the total NUP candidature, the party will be contesting 294 seats for the lower house, 149 seats for the upper house and 537 for regional and state parliaments.
Giving them competition is the National Democratic Force (NDF). The NDF comprises some former National League for Democracy (NLD) party members who were earlier loyalists of the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. They will contest 108 lower house constituencies, 34 upper house constituencies and 19 seats in state and regional parliaments with an estimated 161 candidates primarily contesting in Yangon and Mandalay Regions (formerly called Divisions).
Closely following them is the White Tiger or Shan National Democratic Party (SNDP) with about 157 candidates mainly in Shan and Kachin states with 45 candidates for lower house, 15 candidates for upper house and 97 candidates in Shan and Kachin state and regional parliaments. The SNDP expects maximum voting in their favour along the troubled Thai-Myanmar border from the Shans and ethnic Chinese Wa residents of the areas.
The Democratic Party of Myanmar is also expected to perform well with some 50 candidates primarily in Yangon. The other party in the fray is the Union of Myanmar Federation of National Politics (UMFNP) which is fielding some 45 candidates in all mostly in Magwe and Yangon.
The Suu Kyi-led NLD party, which was touted to be the toughest competition to USDP, withdrew its candidature from contesting in the elections, disappointing pro-democracy supporters of the country. However, the NLD continued its involvement by conducting “voter education camps” in several constituencies urging the people to reject the elections by choosing to refrain from voting as provided in the Election Commission Law. They have however been warned by the ruling junta against carrying out such camps.
A small number of ethnic parties also floated their candidatures, but, their presence is unlikely to disturb the expected result. While parties like the All Mon Region Democracy Party (AMRDP) with 25 candidates and National Progressive Party (RNPD) with 45 candidates are contesting for constituencies in their states, the Karen People’s Party (KPP) with 42 candidates will contest mostly in Irrawaddy and Yangon Regions not in the Karen State itself. There is also a negligible candidature of the Wa National Unity Party with four candidates in Shan State.
The country’s 53 million ethnic minorities (the largest group being the Bamar) remain a volatile group, and especially in the Shan and Karen States and pose a threat to the election process. Elections in these states are doubtful due to the prevailing violence. A total of 17 ethnic armed groups have become party to various agreements with the government, but those who are still fighting against the junta are expected to disrupt the polling process.
Despite the disturbances, the government expects a reasonable turnout for voting. Not much deviation from the predicted path is expected in terms of the outcome though. For now, Myanmar’s dance of democracy has just begun and the tempo is only likely to go up in the coming days.