By-elections results a wake-up call for NLD
Much was to be desired about the performance of the ruling NLD on Saturday’s by elections and analysts and party stalwarts said this should serve as a wake-up call.
THE voting went ahead peacefully, which is a good reflection on the ruling National League for Democracy, but the results should serve as a wakeup call for the country’s first democratically elected government which came into power in 2016.
Out of the 13 seats contested on Saturday’s by-elections the NLD won only seven seats, far below its expectations of winning a resounding majority of the seats. It means the NLD won only 54 percent, while the rest went to the other parties.
Fortunately for the NLD there’s still a good one and a half years more before the general elections in 2020.
“The by-election results are a lesson learn for us,” U Zaw Myint Maung, Mandalay Chief Minister and also a senior NLD member, told journalists after unofficial results came out. “Now I believe we can prepare for 2020,”
He said the results showed the people’s support of the NLD, which swept the November 2015 elections, was declining. Eleven of the seats contested were previously held by the ruling party.
The official results showed the NLD winning three Lower House (Pyithu Hluttaw) seats in Yangon’s Tarmwe township, Mandalay Region’s Myingyan township and Chin State’s Kanpetlet township. It has also succeeded in winning three regional parliamentary seats; one each in Bago, Mandalay and Magwe regions. Likewise, it also won the Mandalay Region’s Shan Ethnic Affairs minister’s post.
The main opposition party United Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) succeeded in winning the Sagaing’s Tamu and Yangon’s Seikkan regional parliament seats as well as the Upper House (Amyotha Hluttaw) seat in Myitkyina in Kachin State. All three seats were previously held by NLD stalwarts.
Another seat the NLD lost was in Chin’s Matupi township, which was won by the candidate from the ethnic party the Chin League for Democracy.
The only two seats not held by the NLD prior to the by-elections are the Rakhine State’s Rathaedaung township and the Shan State’s Lechar township. The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) secured the Pyithu Hluttaw seat in Lechar, while independent candidate U Tin Maung Win, the son of detained Rakhine MP U Aye Maung, won the Rathaedaung constituency in the regional parliament.
The questions NLD stalwarts need to answer frankly is why it lost in the six constituencies.
Analysts pointed to a low voter turnout and failure of the ruling party to implement its key promises such as amending the 2008 military-drafted constitution and failure to achieve internal peace and the rule of law.
In the case of the constitutional amendments, the NLD has been talking about it since it contested the 2012 elections and has so far failed to make good its promise.
There is also concern over the turnout of voters.
Over 900,000 citizens were eligible to vote in the by-election. The Union Election Commission has not released official information about voter turnout but provisional figures received from township election commissions show that only five constituencies had voter turnouts of over 50pc, the remaining eight constituencies registered an estimated turnout of between 30pc and 40pc.
“NLD supporters didn’t vote as they assumed the by-election would not bring much change in parliament and executive branch,” U Myat Thu, chairman of Yangon School of Political Science said of the low voter turnout.
He expressed hope the people will fully participate in the 2020 general elections as they have to choose their government.
“But the NLD has to be more concerned with the ethnic-controlled areas,” U Myat Thu said.
U Maung Maung Soe , a political analyst, said the NLD is losing the people’s support. He noted that in the 2015 election, the ruling party won 8720 votes in Tamu in Sagaing Region while the USDP only managed 8468 votes, but on Saturday’s by-elections the USDP won in Tamu with 10,567 to NLD’s 6602 votes.
In the case of Seikkan Township in Yangon, the NLD won with 514 votes while the USDP only got 404 votes. In the last election the situation was reversed with the USDP winning with 514 votes while the NLD only got 356 votes.
The figures show the USDP maintained its votes in the township while the NLD lost their supporters, perhaps due to lack of interest in the polls.
“As they thought the election result may not have any effects in the current situation, the NLD supporters might have decided not to vote. But it could also mean that the NLD is losing support,” said U Maung Maung Soe.
U Maung Maung Soe also pointed out that the military also plays a key role in the process as their families still have a chance to vote in the elections.
“Not only do they have 25 percent representation in the parliament, they still have to vote also. Their votes always go to USDP, the military backed political party,” U Maung Maung Soe added.
Evidence showed that in constituencies where there are military bases – in Minbu and Myitkyina – the families of personnel in the bases cast their votes for the USDP. Although the NLD won in Minbu, the party did not get any votes in polling stations where the voters are members of the military and their families.
“The NLD and parliament need to review the issue (of military participation in the elections),” U Maung Maung Soe said.
But U Maung Maung Soe noted that more than low voter turnout, another reason for the dismal showing of the NLD could be a loss of trust among voters.
He noted that in Rakhine and Shan states, which are being occupied by strong ethic political parties, the NLD did not win majorites even in the previous election.
Also, in other ethnic areas like Chin, Kachin , Mon, Kayah and Kayin , ethnic parties have been preparing for 2020 election by merging into one single party, which could give the ruling party a strong fight.
“We need to wait and see how the NLD responds to ethnic parties for the 2020 election. They should make a strategic alliance with ethnic parties,” U Maung Maung Soe said.
Before the 2015 general election, ethnic parties hoped for alliances with the NLD through negotiation over sharing some seats in ethnic areas. However, the NLD neglected the alliances and contested in all seats.
Ethnic parties realised that they could not expect anything from NLD when NLD refused to give a chance to appoint elected candidates from ethnic parties for ministerial posts for states and regions when the NLD formed the government. All regional ministers were appointed by NLD.
The poor performance of the cabinet and the parliament is a key issue that kept people away from the recent elections, political critic U Yan Myo Thein told The Myanmar Times.
“NLD could not do anything to change 2008 Constitution during the first 1000 days of its parliamentary term. Then they gave promise to promote job opportunities, however, many people are going abroad. People are facing more difficulties in every sector. Under these circumstances, people’s interest in voting is declining,” said U Yan Myo Thein. – Additional Reporting by Chan Thar