Myanmar’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) may abstain from contesting parliamentary seats that overlap with those its allies are seeking in upcoming general elections, an ethnic lawmaker said Monday, days after the party announced its intention to take part in the November polls.
NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi said over the weekend that her party will contest the Nov. 8 elections, despite transparency concerns, in a bid to unseat the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), and planned to compete in as many constituencies as possible.
But Sai Nyunt Lwin, a member of parliament with the Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD), told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the NLD and ethnic parties from the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament (CRPP) were in discussions to “avoid overlapping constituencies” during the vote.
The CRPP was formed in 1998 by the NLD—along with representatives from parties including the SNLD, Arakan League for Democracy (ALD), Mon Democracy Party and Zomi National Congress—after Myanmar’s then-ruling military junta refused to recognize a sweeping victory by the opposition in the country’s 1990 general election.
Sai Nyunt Lwin said the NLD and the SNLD were set to hold talks Monday in the country’s economic capital Yangon on which constituencies the two parties would contest.
“We are working hard to create a government in the state,” he said.
“More than 50 SNLD candidates plan to contest 17 townships.”
The Democratic Voice of Burma quoted NLD central committee member Nan Khin Htwe Myint as saying that her party would negotiate with the CRPP on where to avoid “competing in constituencies where they have a strong potential.”
The report said that in addition to Nan Khin Htwe Myint, NLD central committee members Hantha Myint and Win Htein would round out the three-person delegation for talks with the CRPP.
The election outcome will determine who holds the seats in Myanmar’s bicameral parliament for the next five years based on 330 constituencies for the lower house and 168 constituencies for the upper house. The two sides of parliament would nominate and vote on a president after the seats are filled.
Also in play are 644 constituencies for state and regional parliaments, as well as 29 for ethnic ministers.
Myanmar has 83 registered political parties which must contest at least three constituencies to take part in the polls. Parties must submit candidate lists to the UEC between July 20 and Aug. 8, and will be permitted to campaign within 60 days of the election.
November’s polls are seen as a key test for Myanmar as it struggles with democratic reforms introduced by President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government since it came to power following a 2010 ballot that the NLD boycotted and which was widely seen as neither free nor fair.
88 Generation to contest
On Monday, Min Ko Naing of the 88 Generation Students Group said a number of the organization’s senior members will run for parliamentary seats in the upcoming polls, though it has no plans to form a political party ahead of the vote.
“We have to decide if members of the 88 Generation group will take part in the election as affiliates of political parties that we have a long working relationship with,” he said, without specifying which parties.
Min Ko Naing said that after lawmakers recently voted down a number of proposed amendments to the country’s junta-written 2008 constitution, it was clear that changing the charter “is impossible through parliament.”
“People from our group want to work in the legislature because it needs more democratic influence [to amend the constitution],” he said.
“The rest of our group will continue working for democracy, peace and to build a federal union. We just need to be balanced.”
Founded in 2005, the prominent 88 Generation Students group takes its name from Myanmar’s 1988 pro-democracy uprising in opposition to military rule.
Among the amendments voted down by parliament in late June and early July was Article 59(f), which would have allowed people with foreign family members to become president. Aung San Suu Kyi is barred from becoming president because her two children are British citizens, as was her late husband.
Parliament also shot down a change to Article 436(a) which would have lowered the share of parliamentary votes required to approve charter reform to 70 percent from more than 75 percent, along with a proposal to limit the veto power of military lawmakers who are guaranteed a quarter of legislative seats through appointment.
Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD have repeatedly said the election cannot be free or fair if the constitution is not amended.
As Myanmar’s political parties prepare their lists of candidates for the election, the country’s president remained conspicuously absent from that of the USDP.
Following a meeting of the lower house of parliament Monday, ruling party lawmaker Thura Aung Ko suggested to reporters that Thein Sein might not contest the ballot as a USDP candidate, while “several lieutenant generals and top government officials” have asked the party to add them to the list.
“I don’t think [Thein Sein] will come back to the USDP as he already said he will not take part in party politics, only national politics,” he said.
“The president is the USDP chairman and people seem to assume that he will not come back to party. But we will accept him if he wants to return.”
Major Zaw Htay, the director of the President’s Office, refused to comment on whether Thein Sein would be added to the USDP’s candidate list.
But Reuters news agency quoted a senior official from Thein Sein’s office as saying he had decided not to run in the elections, meaning he will not be eligible for a second term as head of state.
“The president wrote a letter to U Shwe Mann, chairman of the ruling USDP Party, that he will not run in the next general election because of his health condition,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Reuters reported that Shwe Mann held a one-on-one meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi after receiving Thein Sein's letter on Monday afternoon, citing sources close to the USDP and NLD, who did not provide details of what the two discussed.
On Saturday, Aung San Suu Kyi told the media that the NLD had “considered a plan” for a party presidential candidate since the constitution bars her from the position, but declined to discuss it, saying it was too early to do so.
Reported by Win Naung Toe, Khet Mar, Moe Klyar Oo and Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.