In his monthly radio broadcast on October 1, 2014 President Thein Sein said that “if the ceasefire is not signed and political dialogue cannot start before 2015, the chance of political stability, transition and a general election in 2015 would be slim”. There was a hue and cry in the political circles of a possible postponement of the 2015 elections for lack of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. However, the Union Election Commission (UEC) Chairman clarified that the elections will be held as planned in end October or early November 2015. All political parties are now gearing themselves up for the 2015 General Elections.
Restrictions on Campaigning
In July 2014 the UEC had issued a directive stipulating the restrictions for campaigning during the elections. The campaign period of 30 days given in that directive was considered too short by the political parties. In a meeting with political parties in Yangon on 21 October 2014, Chairman U Tin Aye of the UEC, extended the campaigning period to 60 days but reiterated that the other restrictions will continue to be enforced.
“These require candidates to seek permission from the township election commission office before holding any campaign events, providing the proposed list of speakers, the location and number of participants. These details would be vetted by both the commission and the regional government and permission must be sought at least 15 days in advance.” (Myanmar Times – 24 October 2014).
The country used the “first-past-the post” (FPTP) system for all elections held till date.
However as some members proposed “proportional representation” (PR) for the 2015 elections, an Electoral Review Commission was set up to review the voting systems and make recommendations on the suitability of the various systems for the 2015 elections.
In end October 2014 Myanmar’s lower house started debating on the eight voting systems proposed by the Electoral Review Commission. The commission had indicated that proposals 3 and 4 should be considered by the lower house because they are the “most appropriate for Burma” (DVB-28 October, 2014). Both these proposals are a combination of some features of both FPTP and PR Systems.
In the PR system the voters vote for political parties and not for individual candidates. The voting districts are large with multiple candidates. Depending upon the percentage of the votes secured, the parties nominate their candidates. The PR system will benefit the minor parties and ethnic parties as they will have their representatives depending upon their percentage of votes assuming the voting takes place on ethnic lines.
The Union Solidarity and Development Party-USDP (Ruling Party) supports the changeover to PR system while the National League for Democracy-NLD (opposition party) and several ethnic groups strongly oppose the PR system. The NLD is questioning the need for change from the present FPTP system and that a referendum should be held for change over to the PR system, for the public to be aware of the change and opts for it if necessary. The USDP is of the view that since it is not a constitutional change, a referendum is not required. The USDP is presumably proposing the change to the PR system with a view to weaken the NLD which had a landslide victory in the 1990 elections and the 2012 by elections. The ethnic parties are divided over the issue as presumably the ethnic states may continue to have the FPTP system if the proposal of a hybrid voting system is adopted.
It remains to be seen as to how the issue will be decided by a parliamentary vote.
The Union Election Commission announced on 04 November 2014 that it will start compilation of national voters list with immediate effect and will complete in all 330 townships across the country by July 2015. Once the lists are complete members of the public will have 14 days to check the voters list for any wrongful inclusions or exclusions (The Irrawaddy, November 4, 2014).
The Union Solidary & Development Party (Ruling Party)
Thura U Shwe Mann, the speaker of the Union Parliament, is the leader of USDP. The party is filled with army officers who have relinquished their uniforms and the party has the full backing of the military.
In a press conference in July 2014, he rejected the suggestion that the USDP is trying to change from first-past-the-post to proportional representation because it is worried it will lose heavily in the 2015 election “who says we will lose the 2015 election. I am sure the USDP will Win”. (Myanmar Times – 07 July 2014).
Consequent to the sweeping victory of the NLD in the 2012 by-elections, the USDP is revamping the party by additional recruitment of members and reorganising its various committees.
The USDP has indicated its reluctance to major constitutional amendments prior to the general elections.
The National League for Democracy – NLD (Opposition Party)
The 2015 elections will be the first general elections to be contested by the NLD after its land slide victory in the 1990 elections, as it boycotted the 2010 elections.
The NLD is facing a major road block as Article 59 (f) of the constitution debars Aung San Suu Kyi from contesting for the President’s post as her two sons are British citizens. It is most unlikely that this article may be amended even if Article 436 (which gives a virtual veto to the military) is amended before the general elections in 2015.
“We believe there is no number two position in our party, no one is second to Aung San Suu Kyi,” Han Tha Myint, a member of the NLD’s executive committee, told Reuter when asked why the party would not put up its own candidate. (The Irrawaddy, Sept. 24, 2014)
There was a media report indicating that since there may be no candidate from the party for the president’s post, it might even support Shwe Mann’s candidature for the post. However, this report was immediately denied by a senior member of the NLD.
The NLD is keen that the 2008 constitution is amended before the 2015-elections. For this purpose it held a number of public rallies at various cities since May 27 and wound up this campaign on July 19 (Martyr’s day). During this campaign the party had reportedly gathered over 5 million signatures in support of constitutional amendments before the next general elections. Though the main focus is to amend Article 436 (which gives a virtual veto the military) the party is hopeful of amending Article 59 (f) also which debars Suu Kyi for the presidency because of her children being British Citizens.
The NLD (particularly Suu Kyi) has been urging the government to hold a quadripartite meeting between the government, parliament, military and political parties. Such a meeting was convened for the first time on 31 October 2014. The meeting was termed as successful though Suu Kyi said that she was disappointed as “this was not the kind of quadripartite meeting we envisioned” she said. Union Information Minister Ye Htut confirmed that it was agreed to “discuss the issue of amending the Constitution in the parliament according to the law”. The President in his opening address reiterated that ensuring a successful General election in 2015 is critical to the country’s democratic transition.
The contenders for the post of the president consequent to the 2015 general elections are:
Thura Shwe Mann: He is currently the speaker of the Union Parliament as well as the leader of USDP. He has made known his ambitions for the post on a number of occasions. He has questioned the Government policies especially on the peace initiatives with ethnic groups. He has taken a keen interest on constitutional amendments and has kept up a working relationship with Aung San Suu Kyi.
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing: The military chief is retiring this year. He has been responsible for the military’s involvement in the peace talks with ethnic groups. He has become more assertive and is often meeting the press and talking more politically and diplomatically.
President Thein Sein: He has not out rightly denied his ambitions for a second term. He has been successful and has been lauded internationally as a reformist president. He will be flying high if a nationwide ceasefire agreement is also signed before the 2015 elections.
Aung San Suu Kyi: She has declared her ambitions for the post on a number of occasions. However, she becomes eligible only if Article 59 (f) of the constitution is amended prior to the general elections. The chances of that happening seem to be remote as of now.
US President Barak Obama in a telephonic call to Myanmar President Thein Sein on 30 October 2014 called for an “inclusive and credible process” in the next general elections according to a White House Communication. Mr. Obama will be making his second visit to Myanmar in the middle of November in connection with the ASEAN and East Asia Summit.
US President Obama is quietly acquiescing to the (Myanmar) Government’s decision to bar her from running for the presidency in next year’s election, US officials say. Whether or not Suu Kyi is allowed to run is “not the standard we’re setting” to judge whether the 2015 electoral outcome is credible, a senior US official told Reuters. “What’s important is that the people of Burma debate what the future of their democracy is” the senior official said in Washington (Reuters – The Irrawaddy 05 November, 2014).
With one more year for the elections, there may be some developments during this period which will influence the general elections.
The Union Election Commission has imposed some major restrictions which will impinge upon the political parties in their campaigning process and make the elections not totally free and fair.
It is likely that a hybrid voting process with the FPTP for the ethnic states and PR for the central regions may be adopted for the 2015 elections.
Amendments to the 2008 Constitution and a Nationwide Ceasefire, if accomplished, before the elections, will have a major impact on the outcome of the 2015 elections.
The ruling USDP with all its official backing and military support is not popular and will not be able to surpass the NLD’s performance if the vote is free and fair.
Though NLD will fare well in the elections, it may not be of the magnitude of the 1990 elections, especially if proportional representation is adopted for the elections. It faces a big challenge.
The ethnic parties do not have a common stand as of now. They are a confused lot in view of the ambiguity in the voting system that may eventually be enforced on the ethnic states.
The Western nations (particularly the US) seem to be reconciled to the possibility of a government after the elections without Suu Kyi having a role to play.
The promise of the Union Election Commission for a free and fair poll with international observers is a welcome development.