Myanmar’s election commission has scrapped by-elections scheduled for November to enable political parties to concentrate on the crucial 2015 general elections—a move welcomed by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).
Tin Aye, chairman of the Union Election Commission, told representatives from more than 30 political parties at a meeting in Yangon on Sunday that it was cancelling the by-elections to fill 35 vacant seats, citing logistical and other reasons.
He said that the move would not only allow political parties to concentrate on the general elections next year but also avoid a clash of events as Myanmar, which is currently chairing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), is scheduled to host a high-profile regional meeting around the same time.
The East Asia Summit to be held in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw in November is expected to be attended by U.S. President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and newly elected Indian leader Narendra Modi, among other leaders.
Tin Aye said if they are held, the by-elections, which would cost more than 2 billion kyats (roughly U.S. $2 million) to organize, would be of little significance because the general elections would be held just about a year later.
Another reason cited for the cancellation was a burdensome election law that requires political parties to put forth at least three candidates in the by-election or face de-registration.
The country, emerging from decades of military rule that ended in 2011, has nearly 70 political parties.
Support for decision
Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party supported the election commission’s decision to scrap the by-elections aimed at filling seats vacated by parliamentarians who have died, resigned,or taken up other positions.
“We are OK with the decision because we don’t have enough time to prepare for them,” Nyan Winn, the NLD’s spokesman, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
The first by-elections in 2012 resulted in a major victory for the NLD, which won 43 of 44 seats that had been up for grabs, including one by Aung San Suu Kyi, who did not contest the 2010 November general elections as she was under house arrest.
“As we’d said earlier, the by-elections wouldn’t result in any significant changes. It would just be a waste of time and money,” Nyan Win was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency. “Now, we will prepare to do our best in the 2015 general elections.”
The National Unity Party (NUP), which has been preparing for the by-elections since March, also supported the election commission’s decision.
“Although many parties, including ours, wasted much time preparing for the by-elections, we have no reason to reject the decision by the commission for canceling the by-elections,” said Han Shwe, a member of the NUP.
The NUP, formed mainly from the remnants of former dictator Ne Win’s Burma Socialist Programme Party, had planned to compete in 18 constituencies in the by-elections.
“I feel that we would have more time to prepare for the 2015 elections by not holding the by-elections,” he said.
Representatives from some of Myanmar’s other political parties however rebuked the commission’s decision.
Aye Maung, chairman of the Rakhine National Party, which rules the communal violence-hit western states of Rakhine, told RFA that the election commission should honor its promise to hold the by-elections.
“People and political parties will trust what [the commission] said about trying to hold free and fair elections in 2015 if the commission keeps its promise about the by-elections,” he said.
“If the commission breaks its promise [on the by-elections], how can people and political parties believe what it will say in the future?” he said.
Likewise, Tu Jar, a former Kachin Independence Organisation member who founded the Kachin State Democracy Party last year, told RFA that he wanted the commission to hold the by-elections.
“Even if one seat is empty, that seat should be filled, I think,” he said. “Every constituency should be represented in parliament. If not, it’s like people from these constituencies lose their rights.”
Khin Maung Swe, leader of the National Democratic Force, which was formed by former members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) who contested the 2010 general elections, told RFA that the by-elections should be cancelled only if a nationwide cease-fire is signed between various armed ethnic groups and the government.
“If the nationwide cease-fire is not signed, the by-elections should be held,” he said.
President Thein Sein’s government is hoping to sign the nationwide cease-fire pact next month.
Myanmar’s legislature has 224 members in the upper house and 440 in the lower house. Twenty-five percent of the representatives are military appointees, while the other 75 percent are elected by voters.
Reported by Khin Khin Ei, Kyaw Zaw Win and Zin Mar Win of RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.