No clean sweep for ethnic parties: TNI paper

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Ethnic based parties are unlikely to sweep the 7 ethnic states, concludes Transnational Institute (TNI) briefing paper, entitled Ethnic Politics and the 2015 Elections in Myanmar, which was published yesterday.

Fighting between a white tiger and the yellow tiger. In Shan State the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party’s logo is the white tiger and its rival sister organization, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy’s is the (yellow) tiger’s head. (Photo: www.dailymail.co.uk)
Fighting between a white tiger and the yellow tiger. In Shan State the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party’s logo is the white tiger and its rival sister organization, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy’s is the (yellow) tiger’s head. (Photo: www.dailymail.co.uk)

One of the reasons, unlike the 2010 where they only had to face the government proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), is competition from the nationally popular National League for Democracy (NLD) that is fielding candidates in almost all the available seats, 1,151 out of 1,171 up for grabs.

Others include:

  • The prospect of vote-splitting among different parties belonging to the same ethnicities (“The choice for a voter is easy if there is only one party in their constituency representing their ethnicity”)
  • The Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) is still yet to be signed which indicates that some constituencies in conflict areas are likely to be affected by polling cancellations shortly before the election day, which happened in 2010
  • Also unlike big parties, many ethnic parties are facing significant financial constraints
  • Equally important, in many ethnic borderlands, especially conflict-affected areas, there is very little interest in elections that do not appear to have tangible relevance for the challenges in most people’s daily life

However, the ethnic parties number of seats can be boosted, if they could either agree to merge or agree not to stand against each other in the same constituencies, it counsels. In addition, the signing of the NCA could also provide an adequate insurance that there shall be no cancellation of polling. “To date, the only successful merger has been that of the 1990 and 2010 Rakhine parties to form the Rakhine National Party, which now appears poised to take a large majority of the seats in its state,” the paper reports.

The Arakan National Conference in May 2015, in Kyaukphru, which was considered the fruit of the successful merger between the state’s 1990 and 2010 winning parties. (Photo: The Nation)
The Arakan National Conference in May 2015, in Kyaukphru, which was considered the fruit of the successful merger between the state’s 1990 and 2010 winning parties. (Photo: The Nation)

Nevertheless, there is a bright side to the upcoming elections, compared to 2010 or even 2012 say the paper:

  • The political climate in the country is significantly more open, with a fairly vibrant and generally uncensored media and greater civil liberties, as well as public confidence in using them
  • Another is the close collaboration between the election commission international electoral support organizations which has helped to promote international standards
  • Not last and not least is the cost of candidacy which has been reduced from K 500,000 to K 300,000 (about US $ 250). In 2010 it was non-refundable. But now, as in 1990, it is a deposit, refunded in full to winners, as well as to any candidate who obtains at least 12.5% of valid votes.

The TNI’s recommendation that the elections are “closely monitored and openly pursued and that, whatever the outcome, it is not perceived as an end itself but another step in a reform process that still has a long way to run in bringing peace, equality and democratic rights to all the country’s peoples.”

The full briefing can be read from http://www.tni.org/work-area/burma-project

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