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Myanmar Elections: Advantage Suu Kyi’s NLD

Paper No. 6693                       Dated 18-Oct-2020
By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
General Elections in Myanmar are due to be held on 8th of November this year and for various reasons the NLD appears to have a decided advantage over other parties.
Judging from the postal votes polled in Thailand, South Korea, Singapore and Japan, it looks that polling in spite of the existing pandemic may be heavy with larger than expected people turning up for voting.
The Human Rights Watch Myanmar had been rather unfair in observing that the Myanmar election is “fundamentally flawed”and it will not be fair because of censorship, arrests and with  hundreds of Rohingyas still banned from voting.
The criticism on censorship is true as the Election Commission has been exceptionally harsh and has not allowed even genuine criticism of the policies of the Government.  At least four broadcasts of non Government parties have been censored by the UEC. 
The result was that the People’s Party of 88 which is participating for the first time and whose sacrifices during the 88 movement were known, cancelled its Election Broadcast claiming that it faces censorship by the authorities.  Thus by boycotting the only opportunity to reach the masses, the Political party that arose over the 88 movement- People’s party is unlikely to make a good showing.
Amidst all these, Aung Naing Oo, the Executive Director of the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation has published an article in the ‘Frontier’ that the situation is such that there is potential violence before, during and even after the General Elections.  The reasons given by him are not that weighty and could happen anywhere in any democratic elections- still they appear to be serious enough for the Election authorities to take note cancel elections in many areas.
The reasons given by Aung Naing Oo for potential violence were
*  There is an entrenched culture of violence in Myanmar.
* There have been incidents of violence like Election bill boards being vandalised.
* There was even an incident of dummy hand grenades being lobbed at the house of a local election official.
* Clashes have occurred between supporters of NLD Ruling Party and the USDP in the regions of Mandalay, Hagway and Ayerawady.
* In Shan State clashes have occurred between RCSS and Ta’ang Party.
In a separate incident not quoted in the observation,  three Ruling Party candidates have been abducted in the most disturbed Province- the Rakhine State.  
Taking the cue though not on the basis of this report alone, the Election Commission has cancelled General Elections in parts of  Rakhine, Kachin, Kayin, Shan State and Bagon.  
Cancelling elections in Rakhine State and to a lesser extent in Shan State is understandable, but not in other regions like Kachin, Kayin and Bagon areas.
There was serious fighting between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army on October 4th and 5th and again on 13th of October.   In the latter incident, the Army resorted to aerial strafing by Jets.  The operation was so intense that the Army, Navy and the air force with Jets and Helicopters took part in the operations against the Arakan Army.  A large number of casualties have been taken by  the Army and the situation is getting worse.
  The Government and the Tatmadaw continue to club both the Arakan Army and the ARSA as terrorist outfits though both are not the same.
The Clergy appears to be divided in support in the coming elections.  The Buddhist Monks can be categorised into three- one- the traditional and conservative type who support Suu Kyi’s NLD.  The second one are the activists who took part in the 1988 revolution and also participated in 2007 protests that were brutally put down. These monks are critical of Suu Kyi’s attempts for rapproachment with the Army.  The third one is the notorious Ma Ba tha groups supported by the Tatmadaw and its proxy USDP. Ma ba Tha was ordered to be disbanded by the Sangha in 2017 but such elements are still present.  
It could be confidently said that the majority of the Clergy is with Suu Kyi.
It is too difficult and even dangerous to predict the result of the elections at this stage when hardly three weeks are left.   The Ruling Party- the NLD of Suu Kyi appears to have a clear lead for various reasons.
In one goes by the track record of NLD government in the last five years, one could say that Suu Kyi achieved none of her cherished goals.  The Peace process or the process of reconciliation has not made progress.  The much touted promise of Constitutional reforms floundered in the Parliament with the Army with its 25 percent of the votes struck down all the suggestions.  Even one good suggestion from the Army/USDP side to allow election of Chief Ministers for  the Provinces instead of a selection by the Federal Government was not carried through. The economy is still floundering. 
There has been no progress at all in the peace process and now Myanmar is at the mercy of the Chinese who control most of the powerful ethnic insurgent outfits directly and indirectly.  
Yet Suu Kyi is still popular and she has been able to keep the Army at bay.
She has stood up to the Army where it mattered.  The Army’s request for additional funds for continuing the Rakhine war was turned down.   The National Defence and Security Council where the civil administration has no majority has not been convened despite pressure from the Army.
In the first democratic elections held in the country, the NLD had a sweeping victory with 80.82 percent of the votes.  This  election was rejected by the Army and in the next genuine democratic election, the NLD obtained 77.04 percent of votes in 2015.  If this trend continues, the NLD may still be the largest party to be voted though not with the same spectacular results they obtained earlier.
The reasons are simple.  The people of Myanmar understand that the rule of the military is to be avoided and the only party that could do is the NLD of Suu Kyi.  Secondly, the widespread pandemic and restrictions in electioneering give a decided advantage to the Ruling Party.  There is no other party including the USDP that is close to the NLD in popularity and acceptance.
The question is whthether they would get a clear majority or not.  If there is no clear majority, Myanmar could be expected to go through another round of instability.