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ELECTION 2015

Delta, Capital Tipped as NLD Hard-Sells in Burman Heartland

A political analyst pegs the two regions dominated by ethnic Burmans as difficult constituencies for the National League for Democracy to beat Burma’s ruling party.


RANGOON — A political analyst has pegged Irrawaddy Division and the capital Naypyidaw as two regions dominated by Burma’s ethnic Burman majority that the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) will struggle to win when voters go to the polls in just a few days’ time.

The delta region townships of Hinthada, Maubin, Myaungmya, Ingapu, Pathein, Thabaung, Zalun and Pyapon will be particularly tough constituencies for the NLD as races where many Union ministers and senior members of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) are contesting on Nov. 8, according to Yan Myo Thein. The political commentator said over the last year he had gathered information from “colleagues in the field and data from various sources” to help inform his assessment.

Yan Myo Thein added that among the country’s other Burman-dominated divisions, five constituencies in Tenasserim, four in Pegu, six in Magwe, eight in Sagaing, 10 in Mandalay and nine in Rangoon would also be especially difficult contests for NLD candidates.

It is in the Irrawaddy Delta, however, where the ruling party appears to have concentrated its heavy-hitters.

“In Irrawaddy Division, many ministers and senior USDP members are contesting candidates. They have strong support, so NLD candidates will face an uphill battle,” he said.

In some of these races, fears of electoral defeat for Burma’s largest opposition party have been compounded by logistical snafus, vote fraud concerns and violence over the course of the soon to conclude 60-day campaign period, all of which could jeopardize prospects for a free and fair election.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy this week, NLD candidate Aye Win, contesting the Lower House seat in Ingapu Township, claimed to have witnessed irregularities in advance voting.

“I saw that there were three advance votes in the first ballot box, No. 125, then a day later, these votes moved to box No. 126,” he said.

Kyaw Min Hlaing, a Lower house candidate for Oketarathiri Township in Naypyidaw, said problem with voter lists’ accuracy—and the potential to commit fraud by exploiting the error-ridden rosters—were a major concern ahead of Sunday.

“Whatever the USDP is doing, we believe we can win, as Min Thu of the NLD won in 2012 at this area,” said Kyaw Min Hlaing, whose USDP opponent is the former military general Hla Thein Swe.

Of more than 200 townships across Burma’s seven divisions and Naypyidaw, about 50, or one-quarter, stand a good chance of tipping in favor of the USDP, according to Yan Myo Thein

In Irrawaddy Division, Union ministers Tint Hsan, Myat Myat Ohn Khin and Thein Nyunt are contesting, while the division’s chief minister, Thein Aung, and senior members of the USDP leadership Htay Oo, Soe Naing and Tin Htut are all seeking seats as well.

“Compared with other divisions, this is the reason that Irrawaddy [Division] is [a region of] strength for the USDP, and will be tough for the NLD,” Yan Myo Thein said.

He also highlighted two garrison towns in Mandalay Division, Pyin Oo Lwin and Meikhtila, as well as nearby Thazi Township, as potential strongholds for the military-backed USDP.

In the eight townships comprising Naypyidaw Union Territory, where the ruling party’s headquarters is located, Yan Myo Thein said a repeat of the NLD’s by-election sweep of four seats in 2012 was unlikely.

The USDP had “many strategies” to win votes in the capital this year, according Yan Myo Thein.

“If the election is free and fair, the NLD will win a majority of seats, at least 55 percent. If it’s not free and fair, its votes [won] will be less than 55 percent,” he said.

Khin Zaw Win, director of the Tampadipa Institute, echoed the political analyst’s take on the races in Naypyidaw.

“As you know, some villages have been moved from one township to another,” he said, referring to redistricting that he claimed had been done since 2012.

The States’ State of Play

While the USDP and NLD are the primary contenders for seats in the Burman heartland, the country’s largest opposition party faces a different challenge in the states: overcoming the pull of identity politics, with ethnic political parties expected to secure a formidable share of votes on Nov. 8.

A survey released earlier this year gauged preference for the USDP, NLD and other parties, and saw the NLD winning a plurality of respondents’ favor in Burman areas. The NLD bested the USDP in both Burman and ethnic constituencies, but there was notably more support for the opposition party in Burman regions, where 26 percent said they supported the NLD, versus 17 percent for the USDP. In ethnic states, 17 percent favored the NLD, versus 9 percent for the USDP.

Where the survey leaves voter sentiment open to interpretation is in the polltakers’ decision to allow respondents to choose an “other” party, or to not respond at all.

In Bamar regions, 7 percent of those polled said an “other” party would be their future political choice, and 54 percent gave no answer. In ethnic areas, those figures were 25 percent and 39 percent, respectively, with good reason to infer that many respondents among the 25 percent contingent were thinking about one of the country’s many ethnic parties.

Khin Zaw Win said he had taken the political pulse in Shan, Kachin and Arakan states, and found strong support for ethnic parties in those regions.

“For example, the Pa-O region in northern Shan, Chipwe in Kachin State, Ann in Arakan State will be tougher [for the NLD to compete in],” he said.

The NLD earlier this year made a conscious decision to contest areas where ethnic political parties are expected to do well, a move that was criticized by some ethnic leaders.

That fact would likely be remembered in the post-election period, Khin Zaw Win said.

“After the election, them [the NLD] negotiating with these ethnic parties will be a must,” he said.