Tactical voting gives NLD a political tsunami
Myanmar’s political landscape will not be the same anymore, after Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory, which has now been popularly dubbed a “political tsunami” by keen observers, including Sai Nyunt Lwin, the secretary general of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD).
The SNLD, a party representing Myanmar’s largest ethnic group after the majority Bamar, won sizeable seats in the nationwide elections, ranking fourth in Upper and Lower Houses – Amyotha and Pyithu Hluttaw - combined, after the Arakan National Party (ANP), another party that did quite well.
Let us ponder how the prospective change could affect the ethnic political parties, ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), and the whole spectrum of non-Bamar ethnic nationalities after the change of guard that will take place in February next year.
The assumption before the NLD landslide was that the ethnic parties would be able to act as a kingmaker or as coalition partners with the NLD forming a coalition with either one or two influential ethnic parties like SNLD and ANP. But now the whole game plan has to be altered and instead all will now depend solely on Aung San Suu Kyi’s commitment to national unity.
Defying the ethnic parties’ calls of not to run candidates in their home states, the NLD won the elections in almost all the ethnic states, leaving many ethnic parties without representation, or with just a handful of seats in the national and local assemblies.
The final count published on 16 November, in the Global New Light of Myanmar for the two best ethnic parties were 13 Pyithu Hluttaw, 3 Amyotha Hluttaw, 26 State/Region Hluttaw for SNLD; and 12 Pyithu Hluttaw, 10 Amyotha Hluttaw, 23 State/Region Hluttaw for ANP. Other than that, PNO and Ta’ang National Party got 4 seats each in Pyithu and Amyotha Hluttaw combined, and 6 and 7 seats respectively in State/Region Hluttaw. All the rest either didn’t get elected at all or just got one or two seats.
According to Reuters, NLD spokesman Win Htein said the party would choose members of ethnic parties for cabinet positions, including the vice presidency and would consider appointing nonNLD chief ministers in Shan and Rakhine states.
He added that the NLD would not consider a coalition with ethnic parties since it has won a landslide majority.
Many took the NLD approach as being high-handed and ANP chairman Aye Maung told Reuters:
“I’m sceptical about their ability to handle this perennial issue without the active participation of ethnic parties,” and that if the NLD asserts control over regional governments in ethnic areas, “it will be just like the situation under the USDP government.”
Why did ethnic parties fail?
Sadly, the election losers were not just the regime’s Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and other assorted political parties, but also the ethnic bloc as a whole.
Quite a few reasons were given why such a landslide or political tsunami happened in ethnic homesteads. But Sithu Aung Myint, a well-known political commentator has made a convincing supposition, which included some of the following points.
The first point was that the ethnic parties’ election campaign issues were too general and not much different from the NLD, which also lobbied with the general theme of federalism and right of self-governance. A detailed persuasive thematic approach was not seen during the campaign, ethnic parties were only banking on the fact that the ethnic population would vote for their kind.
The second point was that except for the ANP, all the other ethnic parties were too divided, which made it hard to unify and organize the ethnic population, leading to the spreading of votes.
The third point was there were elected ethnic parties from 2010. The older ethnic parties, formed around 1990, tried or offered to work with the 2010 ethnic parties to enter the 2015 elections as a combined, single party, but were rejected for most were satisfied with working with the ruling party.