By any standard the one week after November 8 is an eventful and turbulent week for Burma or Myanmar, which would usher in a new political phase, hopefully for the betterment of the country.
The speculation that the ethnic political parties (EPPs) will do well in the 8 November general elections and the Bamar rival parties will erode the National League for Democracy (NLD) political clout in Bamar-dominated regions by the experts missed the mark with a wide margin and instead the NLD won a third time landslide victory again.
The NLD won with a landslide in 1990, 2015 and again now in 2020. In 1990 the NLD wasn’t allowed to take over the country’s power, as the military or Tatmadaw wasn’t ready give up its hold on the country. But in 2015, the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) government of Thein Sein lost the election in its own game and gracefully transferred the political decision-making power, albeit only 75 percent of it according to the constitution, to the NLD. Now it is adamant that the NLD-led government will continue the job of governing and thus the transition won’t be a problem. The angst that the sitting government, like when USDP was in power in 2015, won’t transfer power isn’t there this time around and it is a relief, so to speak.
The speculation that the EPPs, especially the merger parties, which were formed to become one through fusion of two and more parties, in Chin, Kachin, Karenni, Karen, and Mon states, since they have solidified their potential will appeal to the local people and gather more votes also was only partly true. The exception was the Kachin and Chin merger parties, which won four seats and one respectively in their own states have been a great disappointment for both, Kachin State People’s Party (KSPP) and Chin National League for Democracy (CNLD).
But while the Chin, Kachin and also Karen based merger parties weren’t doing well and losing quite miserably to the NLD’s election onslaught, the Karenni’s Kayah State Democratic Party (KySDP) and Mon’s Mon Unity Party (MUP) were doing a lot better and have gained sizable MP seats.
The MUP won 12 MP seats, 11 in Mon State and one in Karen State. In 2015 elections, the Mon parties could only win 4 seats.
The KySDP won eight seats, but during the 2015 election the Kayah or Karenni parties won nothing at all.
In contrast, the EPPs of Shan and Arakan states which have no such merger parties were able to maintain their political clout just like the 2015 general elections. They are the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) and the Arakan National Party (ANP).
The SNLD then came out second in Shan State election after the USDP but ahead of the NLD which came out third. The ANP came out first in Arakan State election, but wasn’t allowed to form government or occupy the chief minister post, as NLD-led government formed the Arakan State government with its own party people and also took the chief minister position.
According to the 2008 Constitution, the president has full power to order and form the state and regional governments, including appointing chief ministers, which inevitably means the state and regional parliament have no power at all.
This time around, even though about 75 percent or 9 townships of the Arakan constituencies were excluded from the elections citing security concern by the Union Election Commission (UEC), the ANP still won the majority vote in Arakan State.
ANP won 15 seats out of the 30 contested poll districts when Arakan Front Party (AFP) won the 3 seats in Kyaukphyu Township. NLD won 7 seats and USDP won 3 seats, making ANP the strongest and the ANP and AFP, home grown local parties, combined will make an absolute majority, according to Arakan Media’s recent report.
Likewise, the SNLD was also able to add up a few more seats than in 2015 elections. But said to lose out the first place to the NLD with small margin of some 59 votes and maintain the second slot position. The NLD plus were said to be the loss of the USDP.
Shan sources said that the SNLD refused to sign Form 19 for National Assembly (NA) 1 and NA 5. The party considered that it has been cheated.
The USDP has lost miserably in this latest General elections. And so do the Ko Ko Gyi’s People’s Party (PP) and Thet Thet Khiang’s People’s Pioneer Party (PPP) which didn’t even win a seat. Thura Shwe Mann’s party, Union Betterment Party (UBP) also didn’t win any seat according to various the media reports.
As of Thursday morning the NLD had won 399 seats in Union Parliament — more than enough to form a government — while the USDP secured just 28, compared to 41 in 2015.
AA overtures and government-military response
Meanwhile, the United League of Arakan/Arakan Army (ULA/AA) issued a statement, on November 12, urging to hold by-elections in excluded areas and vowed to cooperate with the government and the Tatmadaw to make it possible. And to many’s surprise, the Tatmadaw responded with positive affirmation that it is also its position to let all voters in all constituencies be allowed to cast their votes.
The ULA/AA statement writes: “Our organization sincerely desires that by-elections be held in those constituencies in order that the people do not lose their rights. To that end, we have extended our unilateral ceasefire effective from the 11th of November through the 31st of December 2020.”
“Myanmar Army should cooperate with the NLD government to hold by-elections as soon as possible by halting ongoing offensives in Arakan and declaring a comprehensive ceasefire embracing the whole nation,” urged the statement explicitly.
Paragraph four of the five-point statement of the Commander-in-Chief Office, dated November 12, in support to the ULA/AA statement writes: “The Tatmadaw has already made known that in order to achieve free and fair election in a multiparty general elections, all those entitled to vote should be able to vote, which has been the Tatmadaw’s explicit wish. That is why the ULA/AA recent statement is welcomed and in order that the excluded places from the (recent) election could conduct by-elections, all efforts will be made to implement it.”
The Commander-in-Chief Office statement also indicated that Mong Kung of southern Shan State should also be included in the by-elections.
And not to be outdone, Zaw Htay the government spokesman said that the government will also see to it that the by-elections or supplementary or additional elections are carried out in nine Arakan State townships and Mong Kung of southern Shan State, which were excluded from the November 8 general elections.
He answered the query of RFA in writing regarding the issue as: “To quickly conduct elections (by-elections) for the remaining places (excluded areas during the election) negotiations and discussions will be carried out.”
Quite recently, the NLD sent out open letters to the EPPs inviting to cooperate with its party, without spelling out the details.
The letter says, “As the ethnic parties’ objectives and the NLD are the same the NLD would prioritize the ethnic’s desires in the future.”
“It is hoped that the ethnic parties would actively cooperate in realizing the democratic federalism,” added the letter’s closing paragraph.
The NLD on the eve of the election said that it will form national unity government, which was then meant to be coalition-building with the EPPs according to its one top leaders. But now the situation is different as the NLD doesn’t need any party to form government.
Thus, the latest letter sent out which was signed by Zaw Myint Maung, the party vice-chairman, could have a different meaning than the coalition-building. It could mean the joining the NLD by dissolving their parties; doling out a few portfolios by picking some individuals from ethnic nationalities from EPPs to fill in some important positions; or a sincere desire, with genuine political will, to end the ethnic conflict and democratize the country along the line of federal democracy and so on.
Earlier, Zaw Myint Maung has infuriated the EPPs when he urged the voters to vote for the NLD, which could form the government, rather than voting for an ethnic party.
The USDP which has been complaining the irregularities of the election in general and demanding a new election to be supervised by the military and UEC seems to be getting nowhere now, as the Tatmadaw expressively distanced itself from the demand made by the USDP.
Concerning the poor, or rather unsatisfactory, performance of the merger parties, a thorough in depth study may be needed. But general speculation range from uneven demographic, or what might be termed as institutionalized population transfer of the majority Bamar to ethnic states, carried out for decades since the military coup in 1962; relatively new merger parties with poor resources and lack of political sophistication; unsophisticated and easily hoodwinked local population with promise to push out the military from political arena and amend the constitution; and incentives through infrastructure developments which the locals could see as the betterment of their daily lives delivered by the NLD.
Because of the NLD landslide victory, save for the four ethnic states, the military won’t be complaining much, if the Tatmadaw latest distancing of the renewed election demand called for by the USDP is of any indication.
The NLD landslide win could either be a blessing in disguise or the making of the tyranny of the majority. But as the situation now stands, the civilian NLD government and the military are again on the same wavelength where the holding of by-elections, or shall we say additional or supplementary elections to borrow the suggested terms from Dr Khin Zaw Win, are concerned.
Thus, the benefit of doubt should be given to the NLD said a number of ethnic nationality leaders.
If this positive trend of cooperation between the government, military and AA is to continue, we might be seeing the beginning of the end of Arakan conflict, which could have a contagious effect and spread to the other war-torn ethnic states and restore peace. And hopefully, the NLD-led national unity government will be all-embracing, which includes the ethnic nationalities, armed and unarmed, and good working relation with the military, leading to political settlement and eventual establishment a federal union in tune with a multi-ethnic state.