Home Insider Insider Analysis It’s Time to Vote Again

It’s Time to Vote Again

It will be quite interesting to see how the results of the upcoming by-elections, scheduled to be held on April 1st, will turn out since a change in the public sentiment toward the NLD party can now be felt. The forthcoming polling will be the first time the current government has organised an election following its ascension to office. It will also be the first opportunity for the NLD to discern its popularity status after a year in power.

The NLD took power in April, 2016 following a landslide victory in the November 2015 general elections, campaigning with the slogan “It’s Time to Change”. The ruling party retains this slogan to fight in the April by-elections.

The party will need to be analytical and watchful when it comes to the word ‘Change’, as changing can be positive or negative, upturn or downturn, constructive or destructive, etc. Although it is generally assumed to be an alteration to a more favourable condition, sometimes it can bear bad fruit, as in Climate Change. The NLD also needs to take into account the scope of change that has occurred over the last year. Not a great deal has changed in development, economic growth or the socio-economic life of the citizens or for social services and social security during the NLD’s tenure – when ‘change’ is taken as a general good. But much has apparently changed in the public sentiment towards the NLD – it seems that promising change was a little simplistic when so much needs to be done to set the groundwork for real development. Parts of the citizenry have voiced disappointment at the lack of action. The April by-elections will reflect the disclosure of public sentiment toward the NLDled government.

The by-elections will not be a large-scale event as there are only 19 parliamentary seats available. Yet, it will be a watchable event given the controversies and somewhat waned confidence in the NLD’s performance. The comeback of nationalist parties is a possibility. Other parties including the former ruling party (USDP) as well as ethnic parties are hopeful that the by-elections may send a few seats their way after seeing that the popularity of the NLD has diminished somewhat after its one year in management.

A total of 95 candidates will contest to occupy the 19 vacant seats, some left by representatives appointed to administrative duties with some still vacant due to failure to hold elections in restive constituencies. The constitution of Myanmar requires a parliamentarian to leave their legislative post when called to a government office. Nine seats in the Pyithu Hluttaw, three in the Amyotha Hluttaw and seven in state legislatures are up for grabs. Among the competitors are 88 contestants representing 24 parties and seven individual contenders. The former ruling USDP, standing as the largest opposition, will compete in all constituencies and the NLD will run for all vacancies except in Hpruso, Kayah State. Of 95 candidates, 27 are ethnic nationalities from 12 ethnic parties. The Union Election Commission of Myanmar has set up the campaign period to run for 60 days.

A significant rise in nationalist sentiment among the population is expected to stage a challenge for the NLD to repeat its triumph in the coming by-elections yet the issues are seen very differently within and outside Myanmar. For local people, the NLD appears to be too ineffectual and lacks the strong façade and political experience of the USDP. For international citizens, however, the disappointment stems from the NLD’s working too closely with the USDP and the Myanmar Military (Tatmadaw) to quiet dissent. There remain political prisoners, some protests have been broken by police and university students still fear expressing political opinion. 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law has been used with gusto by the NLD whilst the party also allows the Tatamdaw to use it with impunity – a concerning development for a party that promised increased measures of freedom of speech. The NLD’s failure to address international outrage over the Rakhine conflict and subsequent, allegedly widespread war crimes has also made Myanmar a much less attractive place to do business.

The communal displeasure over the NLD’s stance and undertakings concerning national affairs has seen nationalist speech increase in Myanmar. The world is experiencing a renaissance of nationalism and xenophobia partly due to what is often reported to be a growing terrorism threat. Some members of Myanmar society feel frustrated by the government’s lack of paying special consideration to nationalism and antiquated ideas of protection of race, instead giving (limited) priority to liberal democratic values. The NLD, which fetched 886 legislative seats in the 2015 general elections, still has a strong supporter base that is believed to be much bigger than the nationalist forces. Many of the available constituencies in the April by-elections are NLD’s stronghold areas, said an observer. The party decided not to release an election statement for the by-elections.