Myanmar’s election in 500 words

More than 37 million of Myanmar’s 56 million people are eligible to vote on Sunday.

Supporters of the governing National League for Democracy (NLD) party take part in a campaign rally [Shwe Paw Mya Tin/Reuters]

Myanmar will hold national and state elections on Sunday in which Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party will be looking to hold on to power.

Here is a closer look at the vote:

The basics

More than 37 million people are eligible to vote. More than 90 parties are fielding candidates for seats in the upper and lower houses of Parliament.

The NLD’s landslide victory in the last election in 2015 came after more than 50 years of military or military-directed rule. Those polls were seen as largely free and fair with one big exception – the army-drafted constitution of 2008 automatically grants the military 25 percent of the seats in Parliament, enough to block constitutional changes. That proviso still holds true.

Overshadowing the polls is the coronavirus and restrictions to contain it, which are likely to lower turnout despite government plans for social distancing and other safety measures.

The favourite

Aung San Suu Kyi’s party is heavily favoured to win again, though probably with a reduced majority. She is by far the country’s most popular politician, and the NLD has a strong national network, reinforced by holding the levers of state power.

The NLD has been criticised for lacking vision and adopting some of the more authoritarian methods of its military predecessors, especially targeting critics through the courts.

The competitors

Aung San Suu Kyi’s party has lost the cooperation of many ethnic minority parties, which are popular in their border-area homelands. In 2015, those parties were tacit allies with the NLD and arranged not to compete strongly where splitting the vote might give victory to the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, or USDP.

Her failure to come through with an agreement giving ethnic minorities the greater political autonomy they have sought for decades has disenchanted them, and this year they will be working against the NLD rather than with it.

The main opposition USDP was founded as a proxy for the military and again is the NLD’s strongest competitor. It is well-funded and well-organised. Whether voters still see it as tainted by its association with previous military regimes is not clear.

The issues

To a large extent, the polls are seen as a referendum on Aung San Suu Kyi’s five years in power, just as the 2015 election was seen as a judgement on military rule.

There has been economic growth, but it benefitted a tiny portion of the population and fell short of popular expectations.

Not only were ethnic minority groups disappointed by Aung San Suu Kyi’s failure to grant them greater autonomy, but in the western Rakhine state, the well-trained and well-armed Arakan Army – a group claiming to represent the Buddhist Rakhine ethnic group – has risen to become the biggest military threat in years.

The election commission’s cancellation of voting in some areas where parties critical of the government were certain to win seats has drawn sharp criticism. The move is estimated to have disenfranchised more than one million people. Critics have accused the election commission of conspiring to do the NLD’s bidding

The topic that gets the most global attention, the oppression of the mostly Muslim Rohingya minority, is not much of an election issue except for anti-Muslim politicians. A brutal 2017 counterinsurgency campaign drove about 740,000 Rohingya to flee across the border to Bangladesh, but they have long faced systematic discrimination that denies them citizenship and the right to vote.

Source: News Agencies