Myanmar ruling party in u-turn on ouster of speaker – 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.

Small parties harbor big hopes – Nikkei Asian Review

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.

Suu Kyi campaigns in hostile territory – Nikkei Asian Review

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.

Myanmar backtracks on plan to postpone poll – Nikkei Asian Review

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.

Ahead of elections, crunch time for Myanmar cease-fire talks – Nikkei Asian Review

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.

Chasing the ethnic vote in Myanmar – Nikkei Asian Review

TAUNGGYI, Myanmar — For parliamentary hopeful Sai Lynn Myat, Myanmar’s Nov. 8 legislative elections could lead to some lively banter around the family dinner table. His father-in-law, Kyaw Khin, is a central executive committee member of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, while Sai Lynn Myat is running for the rival Shan Nationalities League for Democracy. Ironically, his SNLD office is just off the main street of Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State. The thoroughfare is named after Gen. Aung San, a Myanmar independence hero and father of Suu Kyi. The street in the breezy hill town, 1,436 meters above sea level, bustles with hawkers peddling fried snacks in front of new mobile phone shops and colorful boutiques selling traditional garb.

Despite party purge, high hopes for fair Myanmar vote – Nikkei Asian Review

TAUNGGYI — When Myanmar’s government on Aug. 10 issued a directive for a handful of military medical personnel to be posted to the country’s public hospitals, civilian medics were quick to react. Within three days, a Facebook page full of photos of doctors and nurses in hospitals across Myanmar — all with black ribbons fastened to their white coats to protest the move — had gained over 40,000 followers. “Most of the serving doctors and staff here are wearing the black ribbons,” said Htar Htar Nyein, a surgeon at the main hospital, a five-minute walk from the military’s eastern command here in the Shan state capital. Issued three months ahead of what is being billed as Myanmar’s first free and fair elections in 25 years, the surprise directive was a reminder of the military-dominated past.

Rohingya MP banned from contesting election – Nikkei Asian Review

YANGON — One of five lawmakers from Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority who have sat in the country’s national and regional parliaments since 2010 has been barred from contesting the upcoming Nov. 8 national election. Shwe Maung, speaking to the Nikkei Asian Review on Sunday, said he had received an official notice from the government’s election commission that he was not eligible to run in the election – even though he holds a seat in national parliament. He said he would appeal the decision take by the district election sub-commission in Maungdaw, a Rohingya-majority district in northern Rakhine state, bordering Bangladesh. “I have seven days to appeal and perhaps tomorrow I will make the appeal at the Rakhine state regional electoral commission,” said Shwe Maung, who was elected in 2010 as a lawmaker in Myanmar’s lower house, representing the Union Solidarity and Development Party.

NLD decision to contest vote sets scene for possible power shift – Nikkei Asian Review

NAYPYITAW — Although the opposition National League for Democracy boycotted Myanmar’s last national elections in 2010, it always seemed unlikely it would do likewise in this year’s vote, despite some earlier suggestions to the contrary. In early 2012, the NLD won 43 out of 45 seats in parliamentary by-elections, and is widely seen by most observers as the party likely to win the lion’s share of votes in any free and fair nationwide poll. So, on July 11, just a month after party founder Tin Oo said it was unlikely that the NLD would boycott this election, party leader Aung San Suu Kyi put an end to any doubts by announcing on Saturday that the party would compete on Nov. 8. “Our aim in running is to implement the unfinished democratic reforms,” Suu Kyi said, speaking in Burmese in the capital Naypyitaw on July 11

Myanmar’s workers, employers clash over minimum wage – Nikkei Asian Review

YANGON — Myanmar’s garment manufacturers have signaled their opposition to a proposed national minimum wage of just over $3 per day, saying the increase could force factories in the vital industry to close. “With that wage, businesses cannot survive,” said Khine Khine Nwe, secretary general of the Myanmar Garment Manufacturers Association, which represents 280 factories employing around 200,000 workers. The apparel industry’s resistance to the proposed minimum wage drew a sharp rebuke from local labor groups, as well as the International Trade Union Confederation. “The new minimum wage will still leave workers and their dependents just above the global severe poverty line of $1.25 per person, and many will still struggle to make ends meet,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.