MOULMEIN, Mon State — Ohn Myint was born and raised in Mudon Township, located just south of the Mon State capital Moulmein, the constituency he is recontesting for a seat in the local parliament with the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) on Nov. 8.
The 71-year-old incumbent Mon State Chief Minister is considered a front runner for the seat—officially known as Mudon (1)—in a competitive field, with around 86,000 eligible voters.
A graduate of the local Defense Services Academy, Ohn Myint served in the Ministry of Mining for 14 years before assuming the post of Mon State chief minister following the last general election in 2010.
In a brochure distributed by the ruling party, the chief minister is lauded for bringing development to Mon State’s ten townships—a claim that doesn’t sit so easily with locals and other political candidates.
Min Min Nwe, an ethnic Mon resident of Moulmein, said the socio-economic situation in Mon State had not perceptively improved in the last five years under Ohn Myint, who he viewed as merely a lackey of Naypyidaw.
“I don’t like him re-running, he is already old. He should stop now [for] the state’s future,” Min Min Nwe said. “The only significant changes have been some [improvements] to infrastructure and some contracts signed at the state level with foreign investors.
“The construction of Bilu Kyun bridge [from Moulmein to Bilu Kyun] was not under his authority… In the case of Inn Din coal-fired power plant, although he has said it would not continue, the Union government signed the [agreement]. He couldn’t stop it as a chief minister.”
Running against the state chief in Mudon (1) are six candidates: Nyan Tun of the National Unity Party (NUP); Zaw Min of the National Democratic Force (NDF); Kun Chan of the All Mon Region Democracy Party (AMDP); Maung One of the Mon National Party (MNP); Mya Theingi Maw of the National League for Democracy (NLD); and independent candidate Soe Paing.
Ohn Myint has apparently followed the lead of his ruling party colleagues around the country and upped his public activities ahead of the election, attending recent events including road and bridge building exercises and football matches in the state.
NLD candidate Mya Theingi Maw, now 31, who joined the party at the age of 16 as a youth coordinator, is unfazed by her well-resourced political opponent.
The race is “not just about the chief minister,” she said. “I will compete against anyone contesting this constituency.”
The AMDP’s candidate, Kun Chan, said competing against the two major parties, the USDP and NLD, would be tough, but held out hope that ethnic Mon villagers would back his party.
“The Mon are now more [politically] aware. With the emergence of big parties, votes will also be split. The NLD and USDP are now competing against each other and can’t be so sure they will win,” the 69-year-old said.
AMDP is one of two major ethnic Mon parties competing in Sunday’s election. The party won 16 seats in the 2010 poll which was not contested by the Mon National Party, formerly known as the Mon National Democratic Front, which won five seats in a 1990 election considered the country’s last credible nationwide vote.
Another smaller ethnic Mon party competing in this year’s poll is the Mon Woman’s Party which was founded last year with the aim of promoting women’s rights and gender equality.
Kun Chan, who is also a central executive committee member and women’s affairs coordinator with AMDP, said he told voters to support those candidates who had fostered Mon culture and bore moral integrity.
“Although the NLD is quite strong here and the chief minister is competing, it’s likely they will not get votes in the villages; these are Mon villages. They will get most votes in the towns,” he said, predicting a tight race.
“As we have three Mon parties… on the day of voting, I told people not to vote as if you are sharing snacks, but to vote on a party based on your choice. We have a chance to win.”
According to Kun Chan, 10 to 20 percent of voters in Mudon had been excluded from final voter lists, a fact he cited as one of the party’s chief concerns.
The MNP also acknowledged the Mudon race would be hard-fought but backed its candidates to succeed due in part to the party’s track record of promoting Mon cultural activities.
“We compete because we think we will win,” said Nai Myint Lwin, a central executive committee member for the MNP. “We think there is no party stronger than us.”
In Burman-majority villages like Kin Ywar, however, some locals had cautiously pinned their faith in the ruling party, concerned that development projects underway may not be completed under a new government, according to Nai Myint Lwin.
For Thet Htwe, a 51-year-old USDP candidate competing for an Upper House seat in the Mudon constituency, Ohn Myint had racked up a long list of achievements.
“As he has contacts with people in higher positions and carries out development works in the township, people accept him. But others with party obsessions do not like him, even though he has done much,” he said.
Thet Htwe said that when a company wanted to construct a port in Setse, a coastal village in Thanbyuzayat Township, Ohn Myint ordered the project moved to Mudon Township’s Kin Ywar with a pledge from the company to provide electricity and roads for the village.
“Now there is a wide road. And poles for electricity have arrived. People support Aba [Ohn Myint] as he is the benefactor,” Thet Htwe said.
Ohn Myint held a final campaign rally at Mudon’s Shwe Hinthar town hall on Friday, attended by a crowd of supporters nearing 1,000, alongside other USDP candidates.
He began his speech by listing the achievements of his state government, including new bridges and roads and improved access to electricity and water. He made the optimistic pledge that all people in the state would have access to electricity by early 2016 and predicted the ruling party would perform strongly on Nov. 8.
One ethnic Mon attendee, a firefighter from a nearby village, said he was asked to attend Friday’s rally, but would be voting for a Mon party regardless.
Lae Lae Win, a 37-year-old Mudon resident, said she liked the spirit and discipline of the USDP and cited the “race and religion protection” laws passed under the government’s watch as a positive development for the protection of women.