Myanmar’s Election Commission Approves 88 Generation Group’s Bid to Form Political Party

The People’s Party will field candidates in the 2020 general election.

A man on a motorbike passes the headquarters of Myanmar's Union Election Commission in Naypyidaw, Oct. 27, 2015.

Myanmar’s top electoral body has accepted the registration application of a new political party started by members of the 88 Generation pro-democracy group, after rejecting two previous submissions based on the party’s proposed name, a party official said Friday.

Ko Ko Gyi, one of the leaders of 88 Generation Students Group and a former political prisoner in Myanmar, has been leading the efforts to register the People’s Party, which the Union Election Commission (UEC) previously rejected under the names Four Eights Party and Four Eights People’s Party.

“We received a letter from the Union Election Commission on Aug. 23, saying the party is allowed to register,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service, referring to the national-level body responsible for organizing and overseeing elections in Myanmar and for vetting political parties and parliamentary candidates.

The party, which launched official operations Friday, will not be able to field candidates in the Nov. 3 by-election to fill 13 seats in the national parliament and in state and regional legislatures.

The People’s Party has already opened offices in the towns of Yangon and Mandalay; in Ayeyarwady, Bago and Magway regions; and in Shan and Mon states, Ko Ko Gyi said.

“We believe that it is important to create alliances with ethnic parties when we discuss ethnic unity, as well as with democratic forces that we have been working with for a long time,” he said.

Some believe that the People’s Party could become a competitor to the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which won general elections in 2015 by a landslide but has suffered setbacks since taking power on account of ongoing civil wars in ethnic minority regions and the Rohingya Muslim crisis in Rakhine state.

The People’s Party will begin preparations to contest the 2020 general election by forming alliances with other parties, Ye Naing Aung, another party leader, told RFA.

“We can use the party name now because we can register our party,” he said.

“We have to submit names of 1,000 party member’s names [to the UEC] within three months, but we will do it as soon as possible,” he said.

Ko Ko Gyi and other former members of the country’s 88 Generation Peace and Open Society activist group (formerly called the 88 Generation Students Group) first submitted an application to the UEC in December 2017 to register under the name Four Eights Party.

But other activists from the 88 Generation, who also participated in Myanmar’s 1988 pro-democracy movement, criticized the move, arguing that the party did not represent all those who took part in the demonstrations against the government and opposing the use of the historically significant number 8888.

The number refers to Aug. 8, 1988, the date on which a bloody crackdown by soldiers ended a nationwide democracy uprising against the then military regime.

The UEC told the group to come up with a new name, resulting in the creation of the Four Eights People’s Party, which won approval in April. But after more complaints about the would-be party, the commission ordered the group to change its name again, along with its logo and flag, and to refrain from using the number 8888.

UEC meets with parties, candidates

Also on Friday, the UEC told the leaders of 24 political parties and seven independent candidates who are eligible to run in the Nov. 3 by-election that it will form central and township electoral commissions to prevent problems and confrontations between parties.

The UEC made the decision after the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) expressed concern that leaders of the NLD party would violate a “day of silence” just before the vote, as they did the day before a 2017 by-election, when they appeared on state-run television.

“The USDP discussed five points, including the day of silence during the 2017 by-election,” said party spokesman Thein Tun Oo. “We reported to the Union Election Commission that the leaders of the other party [NLD] talked on state TV the day before voting day to discuss the nation’s development.”

“The NLD responded by saying that it was not ‘canvassing’ on state media, and that [the appearances of party leaders on TV] was just a coincidence,” he said.

Ahead of the 2015 general election and the 2017 by-election, the UEC had rejected the USDP’s complaints about NLD campaign violations, Thei Tun Oo said.

During the meeting at UEC headquarters in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw, representatives from the parties urged the commission to treat all candidates equally and to conduct its work in accordance with relevant laws during the by-election.

Candidates can campaign for 60 days, beginning on Sept. 3, the commissioners said.

Reported by Wai Mar Tun and Nay Rein Kyaw for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.