Sign up | Log in



Home  >>  Daily News  >>  ASEAN ANALYSIS


Asean Affairs  18 September  2015

Myanmar’s Electoral Landscape Vibrant, But Fraught With Uncertainties

By Phuong Nguyen (@PNguyen_DC), Senior Fellow and Deputy Director, Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies (@SoutheastAsiaDC), CSIS

On September 8, Myanmar entered a two-month election campaign period, the culmination of at least a year of excitement, political intrigue, and wrangling among different players. The United States and other international players have been concerned that the elections, expected to take place on November 8, will not be entirely free and fair. But a closer look reveals a very dynamic and fluid picture.

A total of 93 political parties and roughly 6,300 candidates will compete in almost 1,200 constituencies, including for the 498 elected seats in the national legislature—75 percent of the total seats—which means on average almost 9 candidates are contesting each seat. (The remaining 166 seats are appointed by the military commander-in-chief.) Equally striking is that the majority of candidates across the political spectrum reportedly believe that they have a fair shot at winning in the polls, an energy unleashed by years of repressive rule and bottled-up dissent in Myanmar’s society.

The ruling, military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), whose senior members engineered the reform process that started after President Thein Sein took office in 2011, sees the elections as essentially a game of seats. The USDP is prepared to lose a significant number of seats given the more intense and direct competition among the various parties and candidates—a stark contrast to the 2010 election in which the USDP carried the majority of seats and which was widely regarded as a sham election.

Senior government sources have privately said that the USDP hopes to win around 15 percent of contested seats, which, when combined with the 25 percent reserved for military representatives, would account for about 40 percent of the next parliament. The USDP could also seek to form a coalition with ethnic political parties to reach a simple majority, potentially allowing it to maintain a dominant role in politics beyond 2015.

The USDP is, for the time being, still the only party in Myanmar with the financial resources and party network to provide direct assistance to local constituencies, and has at different times sought to deploy this leverage. Fifty-one percent of people in Myanmar surveyed last year by the International Republican Institute said they had a favorable view of the ruling party—possibly a nod to the positive changes ushered in by Thein Sein. But it remains to be seen whether the USDP can fully tap into the advantages of its incumbency.

For opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), its best outcome would be to win at least two-thirds of available seats, thus having the power to nominate the next president and call the shots in the new parliament. While a few years ago the NLD was expected to carry the day in a fairly free election, it is clear that the party now faces more challenges than previously thought.

In recent months, both the party and Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership style have been openly criticized for the first time. Her exclusion of a number of prominent members of the Generation 88 pro-democracy group, along with other popular activists, from the party’s candidate list has been controversial and raised questions about whether Suu Kyi is more interested in preserving the NLD as her own political vehicle or building it into a genuine force pushing for greater democracy in Myanmar.

Like the USDP, the NLD is fielding mostly ethnic Burman candidates, even in the ethnic states home to large minority populations. Yet, with a proliferation of ethnic-based political parties— most large ethnic-based political parties boycotted the 2010 elections, and although many reentered the fold for the 2012 by-elections, the number of seats in 2012 was considerably smaller—ethnic voters may well vote for candidates who share their background and grievances. Thus the NLD will almost inevitably have to pursue coalition building with ethnic parties following the elections.

Suu Kyi dismissed an offer to forge an alliance with the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), a coalition of eight ethnic-based parties, and chose to run candidates in constituencies in which the UNA is also competing. While the NLD could seek to cobble together a coalition after the elections, the decision to compete against ethnic parties could suggest to ethnic politicians that the NLD is most concerned about its own success and make them wary about what an alliance with the NLD would look like.

Ethnic parties are not contesting nationwide like the USDP and NLD, but they will most likely have a say in the makeup of the ruling coalition in a future government. The prospect of the USDP and the NLD forging an alliance in 2016—which was seen as possible before the removal of Aung San Suu Kyi’s political ally Shwe Mann from the USDP’s chairmanship—has dimmed significantly. That said, how Suu Kyi approaches the military and the USDP after the November elections will still be a crucial determinant for the stability of the post-election political climate.

It is impossible to predict how the elections will play out. In addition to the complex and fluid dynamics among the major players, a range of other factors may further complicate an already volatile environment. For example, while the Union Election Commission (UEC) has taken a leading role in engaging civil society and political parties, local governments and election subcommissions have made uneven or no effort to engage their jurisdictions, according to a Carter Center field report released in August.

The United States should prepare to deal with risks and challenges that could emanate from different places, most notably the risks of electoral or communal violence. Although the presence of international and domestic observers at a large number of polling stations will help boost the credibility and transparency of the voting process, it may not lessen the potential security risks that could come from either popular dissatisfaction with authorities or tensions between communities of different ethnic or religious backgrounds.

It also remains to be seen whether the police, along with its auxiliary of at least 20,000 recruited volunteers, and the active ethnic armed groups and militias in rural areas will agree to behave professionally and peacefully. Many observers believe that the widespread use of social media in recent years will further complicate the picture. Even as it adds more transparency to the process, social media can be a platform to fuel tensions and dissent, especially on issues of ethnicity and religion in Myanmar.

While it may be tempting to focus on the list of things that could go wrong in the elections—after all, politics are fraught everywhere, especially in a young, fledgling democracy—for the first time in Myanmar’s history there is both real competition in politics and a will shared by virtually all stakeholders to make the democratic process work. This is the lens through which outside observers should look at the elections.

Courtesy: This post originally appeared on the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington D.C. cogitASIA blog

Comment on this Article. Send them to

Letters that do not contain full contact information cannot be published.
Letters become the property of AseanAffairs and may be republished in any format.
They typically run 150 words or less and may be edited
submit your comment in the box below

Reach Southeast Asia!
10- Nations, 560- Million Consumers
And $1 -Trillion Market
We are the Voice of Southeast Asia Media Kit
The only Media Dedicated to Southeast Asia Advertising Rates for Magazine
Online Ad Rates




1.  Verifier

1. Verifier

For security purposes, we ask that you enter the security code that is shown in the graphic. Please enter the code exactly as it is shown in the graphic.
Your Code
Enter Code

Today's  Stories                           September 18 , 2015 Subsribe Now !
• Myanmar expects a more vibrant economy Subcribe: Asean Affairs Global Magazine
• VN, French firms eye freer trade
• Fuji Electric offers efficient energy solutions
Research Reports
on Thailand 2007-2008

• Textiles and Garments Industry
• Coffee industry
• Leather and footwear industry
• Shrimp industry

• Viet Nam, India seek closer economic ties
• Number of jobseekers rise to 14,257 in July
Asean Analysis                   September 18, 2015
• Asean Analysis September 18, 2015
Myanmar’s Electoral Landscape Vibrant, But Fraught With Uncertainties
Advertise Your Brand

Asean Stock Watch  September  17,   2015
• Asean Stock Watch-September 17, 2015
The Biweekly Update
• The Biweekly Update September 18, 2015

ASEAN NEWS UPDATES      Updated: 04 January 2011

 • Women Shariah scholars see gender gap closing
• Bank Indonesia may hold key rate as inflation hits 7 percent
• Bursa Malaysia to revamp business rules
• Private property prices hit new high in Singapore • Bangkok moves on mass transport
• Thai retailers are upbeat
• Rice exports likely to decline • Vietnamese PM projects 10-year socioeconomic plan


This year in Thailand-what next?

AseanAffairs   04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More


Home | About Us | Contact Us | Special Feature | Features | News | Magazine | Events | TV | Press Release | Advertise With us

| Terms of Use | Site Map | Privacy Policy  | DISCLAIMER |

Version 5.0
Copyright © 2006-2020 TIME INTERNATIONAL MANAGEMENT ENTERPRISES CO., LTD. All rights reserved.
Bangkok, Thailand