Simon Roughneen, correspondent with the Nikkei Asian Review, reports on the first openly contested elections in 25 years.
YANGON – Party elder Tin Oo, a former general-turned-democrat and a confidante of Suu Kyi, told a crowd of several thousand jubilant supporters outside the party’s Yangon headquarters on Sunday night that the NLD could not call the overall result. He drew loud roars, however, when he thundered: “All I can say is that the NLD is in a very good position.” On the perpetually traffic-clogged road outside the NLD office, several thousand red-clad supporters danced and cheered into the night as a giant screen relayed images of vote-counting over the state-run TV channel. Even so, some supporters expressed disappointment that “the Lady,” as Suu Kyi is known, did not address the gathering as anticipated. Sein Ho, a father of four living in Yangon’s Ahlone district, said he had brought his family to the NLD headquarters in the expectation of news that the party had won the election and would form a government. “We hope this party can make the country better,” Sein Ho said. “We think the NLD can win.
YANGON – As polls closed, a thunderstorm hit Yangon — which did little to dampen the spirits of thousands of supporters who had rallied outside the NLD’s headquarters in Bahan township in the hope of glimpsing Suu Kyi. But earlier in the day, under a hot morning sun near the Chinatown district, Nilar Tun, a recent medicine graduate, stood checking voting rules outside her polling station before casting her ballot. “I just want to check up on the rules again, but I saw on the television already,” said Nilar Tun, who would not say who she was voting for. “What I will say is that many people want change,” she noted.
YANGON – Speaking to an estimated 100,000 red-clad supporters gathered in a field beside Yangon’s Thuwanna Pagoda on Nov. 1, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi appeared ebullient, exhorting the cheering crowd to ditch the current military-backed government. “I want to tell you again to vote for us if you want to see real changes in the country,” Suu Kyi said, her call drawing rapturous acclaim from the crowd. On Friday, the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, dominated by former military men and civil servants, gathered at best 10,000 supporters in the same field, where a mix of crooners and pop acts tried to rev up the crowd up ahead of a keynote speech by Nanda Kyaw Swa, a member of the USDP’s central committee. Not content with telling the crowd that the USDP is supremely confident of holding on to power, Nanda Kyaw Swa added some extra bravado: “Let me tell you in advance that we have won.”
YANGON — Aung San Suu Kyi is confident that her National League for Democracy can win her country’s election on Sunday, an outcome that would, she hopes, allow her to run a government from behind the scenes despite a constitutional ban on her becoming president. “I will be above the president,” Suu Kyi said. Zaw Htay, an official at the office of President Thein Sein, said Suu Kyi’s plans would, if implemented, contravene the constitution. “The president is the supreme head of the country, of the people,” Zaw Htay told the Nikkei Asian Review.
KANYUNTKWIN, BAGO, Myanmar — By noon on Wednesday, it appeared that the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party had finally lost patience with Shwe Mann, the parliamentary speaker who was ousted as party chair in August after a long running rivalry with Myanmar President Thein Sein. Htay Oo, the USDP’s acting chair, told the BBC that Shwe Mann, a candidate in Myanmar’s imminent parliamentary elections, had been formally and finally removed from the party two days before. Htay Oo said the decision had been taken because “those who no longer serve the party should no longer be member[s].” Later the same afternoon, however, after various party spokespersons had said anonymously to local media that Shwe Mann had not been expelled, the party issued a statement dismissing his ouster as a “rumor.” “All senior ministers were away for the November 8 election, so no meeting of any kind was held at USDP headquarters,” Kyaw Thura, the party’s head of public relations, told the media in Naypyitaw.
YANGON — Myanmar’s Nov. 8 election is likely to be dominated by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party and the opposition National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi. But about 90 other parties are also vying to win seats in the country’s first free and fair election in a quarter century. Confronted with the wealth, reach and popularity of the big two, this array of smaller parties faces a struggle to win seats — a challenge compounded by Myanmar’s first-past-the-post electoral system, a legacy of colonial rule. “The two big parties are overwhelming the smaller parties,” said Khin Maung Kyi, an official with the United Democratic Party. “They can use so many finances,” he added, pointing to the gaping disparity in resources between his party, which is fielding a mere 41 candidates in the election, and the 1,000-plus being fielded by both the NLD and USDP.
THANDWE, Rakhine State — Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi took her election campaign over the weekend to the troubled western state of Rakhine, where she urged citizens to avoid religious discrimination and not be swayed by rhetoric aimed at stirring up Buddhist-Muslim tensions in the divided region. “Hatred and fear is of no benefit to Myanmar,” Suu Kyi told a crowd of around 2,000 in the coastal town of Thandwe on Oct. 17. Despite efforts by Buddhist hardliners to depict her party as being over-friendly toward Muslims, Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy is expected to win more seats than any other party in the Nov. 8 election. However, the NLD is thought unlikely to have much success in Rakhine State, also known as Arakan, where the ethnically-based Arakan National Party is expected to perform well among the state’s estimated 2 million Rakhine Buddhists who make up about two-thirds of the local population.
YANGON — Hours after Myanmar’s main opposition party objected to a proposal by the country’s Union Election Commission to postpone a national poll scheduled for Nov. 8, the government changed tack and announced that the vote would go ahead as scheduled. The suggestion to delay the poll was made by election commission chairman Tin Aye at an Oct. 13 meeting with several of Myanmar’s main political parties. Later that day, however, state media carried an announcement that the election will proceed on Nov. 8 as planned. Win Htein, who represented the main opposition National League for Democracy at the meeting, said the election commission’s about-turn was baffling. “I don’t know why they changed their minds,” he told the NAR. “I think they believed that the public would be angry if they changed the date.” The NLD had earlier opposed the proposed delay.
TAUNGGYI, Myanmar – A draft national cease-fire deal was agreed in March, but whether the agreement will be signed is questionable, given that the government has refused to recognize six of the 21 ethnic armed groups as potential signatories. The government’s stance has caused a rift among the ethnic organizations. Some, including the powerful Karen National Union and the Restoration Council of Shan State – Shan State Army South, said in August that they would back the deal regardless of others’ involvement, but have since wavered. The Kachin Independence Organization, with an estimated 10,000 fighters, has said it will not sign the national cease-fire without all armed groups on board. If the Kachin were to opt out, any deal would be toothless. “You really need the Kachin involved for it to be comprehensive,” said a close observer of the negotiations, who did not want to be identified.