The recent President Htin Kyaw’s January 4, Independence Day’s speech outlining the amendment of the constitution could now be considered as an opening campaign of the 2020 general elections. The move is likely tailored for the National League for Democracy (NLD) to woo back the electorate that it might likely have alienated due to its failure to fulfill one of its main election campaign promises after two years in office.
From his five-point national objective delivered on the occasion one of it said: “To strive hard to draw up a constitution suitable for the Union in accordance with democratic principles and norms for the emergence of a Democratic Federal Union.”
While supporting base of the NLD in many of the Bamar-dominated areas might not be much effected, this time around, the vote splitting would likely create a negative impact from unexpected areas to the overall winning percentage of the party.
But chief among them would be the behavior of voter’s migration that could change in the ethnic states, where many have cast their votes for the NLD, or better Aung San Suu Kyi, during the last elections in 2015 in the form of tactical voting to be able to replace the hated Military and its self-drafted 2008 Constitution.
In other words, the ethnic states and their nationalities might not be ready to give the NLD a blank check or resort to the tactical voting again and instead would fall back into the traditional voting pattern of giving their voices to the homegrown political parties.
And it is in this direction that the preparation of the 2020 general elections is being pushed and the energy channeled, as can be seen by the ethnic nationalities’ efforts to mobilize the homegrown political parties either through fusion or forming alliance among themselves.
Failures of NLD and other Bamar mainstream political parties
The relationship between the majority ethnic Bamar political actors, like the NLD, Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and National Unity Party (NUP), have never been smooth, including the Military or Tatmadaw. But while the NLD and ethnic nationalities political parties and also the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) could be said as cordial during the eras of successive military regimes, the condition has now changed from latent conflict to careful reluctance interactions. And this, in fact, should be credited to the State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the NLD and the de facto ruler of the country.
When the NLD took office in April 2016, it started to reveal its true color even though the party’s commitment is said to be “democratic federalism“, by going about the national reconciliation process contrary to what many have aimed for.
She formed national reconciliation government appointing Chief Ministers for the states with NLD representatives in every case, even where NLD had won only a minority of state seats. The NLD clearly made use of the presidential prerogative under the dubious 2008 Constitution, although all along during years of its opposition, it was understood that the ethnic and democratic camps were of the opinion that the Chief State Minister should be elected by the people of the concerned state and not the Union President, as the constitution prescribed.
In process, the NLD appointed its people in Rakhine and Shan States even though the Arakan National Party (ANP) came out first in its state with a resounding 23 seats with 48.9%; and doing the same in Shan State where the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) came out second behind the USDP’s 33 seats with 23.2%, while the NLD won 23 seats with 16.2%.
The NLD’s national reconciliation was carried out by nominating and appointing ethnic nationalities to important positions such as ethnic Karen Mahn Win Khaing Than of the NLD and ethnic Rakhine Aye Tha Aung of the ANP as the speaker and deputy speaker of the Upper House, respectively; in the Lower House, Win Myint, an ethnic Bamar NLD member, and T. Khun Myat, a Kachin lawmaker representing the USDP, as the speaker and deputy speaker; and Henry Van Thio, a Chin member of parliament and NLD member, as the second vice president of Myanmar.
However, the NLD undertaking was seen as cosmetic and not really contributing to the ethnic reconciliation as it hasn’t been done under the agreement from party to party coalition-like manner but rather on individual basis approach.
As for the USDP and NUP the ethnic nationalities see them as the extension of the Military and protectors of the Military-drawn constitution. And as such, are never considered as allies, except for some that have a sort of affiliated relationship one way or the other with the Military.
Why ethnic parties failed?
According to the Transnational Institute, of the 91 political parties that took part in 2015 general elections 59 parties or nearly two-thirds were represented by the ethnic or religious minorities. These included parties from seven major ethnic groups that have their own states (Kachin, Kayah or Karenni, Karen, Chin, Mon, Rakhine or Arakan, Shan) as well as smaller sub-minorities. And most major ethnic groups are represented by at least two parties or more.
Against this backdrop, defying the ethnic parties’ calls of not to run candidates in their home states, the NLD has surprisingly won the elections almost in all the ethnic states, leaving many ethnic parties without representation, or with just a handful of seats in the national and local assemblies.
Failures for such outcomes were: banking only on the fact that the ethnic population would vote for their same kind and lack of detailed persuasive thematic approach; except for the ANP, all the other ethnic parties were too divided; too many Military-affiliated ethnic parties popping up after 2010, due to the military clique’s creation; NLD using ethnic candidates mixed with Bamar in ethnic states; and finally, the consideration and implementation of tactical voting by many from the ethnic population for the NLD.
Ethnic parties mobilization
Given the lessons learned from 2015 general elections the ethnic parties tried to either form an alliance or merged together, including other measures to improve performance, to fend off the mainstream Bamar-dominated parties.
So far, the 5 Karen, 2 Kayah and 3 Kachin States’ ethnic political parties were able to merged and formed political parties representing their states, while the 5 Chin State parties agreed to form loose alliance to contest the elections. The Mon State is in the process of forming a national party within six months with the existing political parties within the state. The Rakhine State that has achieved a strong showing in 2015 under the banner of ANP, a fusion of two Arakan parties, is now separated over disagreement in policy matter. The Shan State has not been able to form an alliance or achieve a merger between the two homegrown parties over differences in political conviction.
Looking at the forthcoming 2020 general elections, three main actors’ – NLD, USDP and ethnic political parties – projection outcome could vary.
The NLD would aim for the absolute majority, while the USDP might only like to improve its voting percentage. As for the ethnic parties the ultimate aim is to be able to win in their homestead and form state government.
Given the situation that the ethnic states might not be so generous like the tactical voting in 2015; the popularity surge for the Military-backed USDP because of the Military’s hardliner stance on Rohingya issue, which the majority of the public is also attuned to; and the newly formed former 88 student’s political party entering the election fray; the NLD might have to bear the deduction of its vote-count which would likely have an effect on its absolute majority projection.
The USDP due to its closely-knitted relationship with the Military could benefit from the Rakhine’s Rohingya issue and improved its electoral percentage from merely 10% in 2015.
The two big ethnic parties are the ANP and SNLD. The infighting in ANP has split the party again in two and as such it is unclear if the homegrown parties could do well like in 2015 when they were one. As for the SNLD, the fusion with another Shan party, the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP) is not in the pipeline and thus the situation couldn’t be much different from the 2015 election scenario.
The Kachin, Karen, Kayah, Chin and Mon States had done miserably in 2015 elections and if this time around with the forming of alliance and merger would improve their vote intake is yet to be seen.
All in all, the 2020 elections could usher in a new power distribution and configuration that for the moment is quite hard to predict.
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *
Our revolutionary attitudes are too kind and too gentle for the centra ...
There will always be something or the other to hinder the Peace proces ...
Rohingya issue has shadowed the countries peace process, this is how B ...
This morning I listened to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's speech- I have alrea ...
In Defence of Daw Aung San Suu By following the situation in Burma fo ...
2016 Shan Herald Agency for News