The country is set in motion as the poll date is scheduled for November 8
Political activities have been heating up in Myanmar for the historic general election, expected to be the most democratic vote in a generation for the former juntarun nation.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) won the 1990 election with a landslide, but it was blocked from assuming power. Its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was held under house arrest for 15 of the years from 1989 to 2010.
Political parties are prepared for the race, including the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) which was formed in 2010 as a vehicle to transform the junta into a civilian government. According to the Union Election Commission, 73 parties, including two new ones, have applied for registration to run in the election. Checks are still being conducted on 14 parties. The 2010 general election saw only 37 parties run with 22 winning a seat.
U Ngai Serk, chairperson of Chin League for Democracy, said: “We welcome the UEC’s announcement. It can reduce people’s anxiety over the election and allow parties' work to run smoothly.”
Man Kyaw Nyein, chairperson of Karen National Party, said: “We need to hold negotiations with our allies to work together in the election as a member of the United Nationalities Alliance [UNA]. We have already made preparations for it. Now it is sure.”
Last week, the UNA – a grouping of ethnic minorityaffiliated political parties – convened and discussed ways to increase membership.
UNA leader Aye Thar Aung from the Rakhine National Party said: “Today’s meeting is to discuss the organisational structure of the UNA. We discussed improving the organisation, mainly its structure and policies. We will accept new members, as long they agree with the policies of the UNA.”
The UNA includes the Shan Nationalities Democratic, Mon National, Rakhine National, Shan State Kokang Democratic and Kayan National parties and the Kachin National Democratic Congress and Karen National Zomi Congress for Democracy.
Some UNA members are preparing to run in the election and other nonmembers are petitioning for membership. In order to draft policies with which all of its member groups can agree, 12 members met in Chiang Mai in late June.
A committee was also formed to draft a blueprint for a federal union.
The NLD’s participation would mark the first time in 25 years that Aung San Suu Kyi and her opposition party have taken part in a nationwide poll.
“According to the democratic reforms in the world, the 2015 election is more important for the country than the 2010 election,” she said. The party is expected to experience a landslide victory although it is yet to confirm it will join the race, following the failure to amend the 2008 Constitution.
Military MPs voted down the move to amend Section 436 to end the armed forces' veto. As the veto remains, Section 59(f) cannot be amended and Suu Kyi is therefore barred from the presidency.
Section 59(f) bars individuals with foreign spouses or children from joining the presidential race.
Last weekend the party’s central executive committee said a decision would be made on whether the NLD was to participate in the election would be made when the election date was named. At press time, there was no announcement.
Reuters reported that ethnic minority parties were wellplaced to pick up a sizeable number of seats, presenting a stumbling block for the NLD. The parties, representing many of the country's 134 minorities, are expected to romp home, potentially creating a third force that could stifle the NLD's ambitions to take power.
"Assuming the election is a fair fight, the ethnic parties will prevail in the ethnic areas," said Simon Billinness, executive director of the US Campaign for Burma, who recently met ethnic leaders.
"If ethnic parties were to win many seats in Parliament, that would significantly increase their bargaining power."
“Free and fair election”
In a national radio address on July 9, President Thein Sein reaffirmed his vow to hold a "free and fair" election.
"As the first civilian government in many years, we have a responsibility and we promise to try our best to ensure that the general election is clean, free and fair," he said.
After a meeting in Nay Pyi Taw, the UEC announced that the parties can nominate candidates from July 20 with August 8 the deadline for nominations and August 11 for revocation. The UEC will scrutinise nominees from August 12 to August 21. On July 1, the UEC fixed the constituencies for the 2015 election with 330 Lower House constituencies, 168 for the Upper House, 644 for regional or state parliaments and 29 for region or state parliaments for ethnic minorities.
On November 7, 2010, elections were held in 325 out of 330 constituencies for the Lower House, 168 constituencies for the Upper House and 661 out of 673 constituencies for regional parliaments, including 29 constituencies for ethnic minorities.
On April 1, 2012, byelections were held for 37 vacant seats for the Lower House, six for the Upper House and two for region or state parliaments.
It is estimated that some 30 million voters would cast ballots on the day. Voter lists have been printed out and the election commission admitted errors in the lists.
The NLD and the commission held discussions to discuss the voter lists.
Central executive committee members, Nyan Win, Tun Tun Hein, Win Myint and Aung Kyi Nyunt, would attend the talks, said Tun Tun Hein, head of the list review committee.
Tun Tun Hein said: “We will submit three matters at the meeting: our findings; their response and our complaints.”
The UEC issued an announcement on June 19, urging administrative bodies, political parties, social organisations and voters to help improve the accuracy of the voter lists, welcoming constructive cooperation. Political parties and civil society organisations have since pointed out that voters showed little interest in scrutinising the lists and called on the election subcommission officers to make more effort to correct the mistakes.
Ceasefire agreement pending
It remains to be seen if the national ceasefire agreement (NCA) could be signed between the union government and armed groups before the general election.
As the negotiation proceeds, fighting occurred in several states including Shan, Kachin and Kayin. Last week, the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) attacked the base of the 324 Light Infantry Regiment in Namtu, northern Shan State, in a night raid.
The TNLA said a government soldier was killed and a gun and ammunition were seized while none of its troops were wounded in the fighting on Sunday morning.
Residents report regular clashes between the TNLA and government troops.
The TNLA, which has not signed a ceasefire with the government, claimed the attack was in retaliation for an earlier attack by the army.
Ethnic MPs have pointed out that hesitation to amend constitution, particularly Section 436, may harm the peace process. While maintaining their veto power, military MPs last week also shot down an amendment that would have allowed regional and state parliaments to appoint their own chief ministers instead of the president doing so.
Lower House MP Nang Say Awa said: “According to 436(a) and 436(b), we cannot do anything unless we have more than 75 per cent of the votes. We are trying to get what we demand in the parliament. The 166 military MPs are not elected by the people. Their only purpose in the parliament is to prevent constitutional amendments. If the public refuses to stand this any longer, there might be an explosion.”
“There is relationship between constitutional amendment and the peace process. If we cannot trust the parliament, and legislation depends on the military, then peace depends on the military. Peace will be achieved only when the military agrees,” said Banyar Aung Moe.
Likewise, Rakhine ethnic MP Khin Maung Lat said if the constitution cannot be amended, the goal of building a federal state and implementing a ceasefire will fade.