Faced with uncertainty over final candidate lists and requirements to obtain official permission for certain election-related activities, only a handful of candidates and parties sought to drum up electoral support on Tuesday as the official 60-day campaign period for Burma’s general election began.
Prominent Rangoon Division lawmaker and independent candidate Nyo Nyo Thin used the official start of the campaign season to open her campaign office in Bahan Township on Tuesday where she is contesting for a Lower House seat.
The outspoken lawmaker, who was a surprise omission when the National League for Democracy (NLD)’s candidate list was unveiled in early August, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that she will visit voters door to door to garner support in the weeks ahead.
Saw Than Myint, chairman of the Federal Union Party, said that although the campaign period had now begun, candidate lists had not yet been finalized across the board, so only those candidates who had been confirmed could officially start campaigning.
“The nationwide candidate lists were supposed to be announced by September 7. But the lists have not yet been announced in some townships, including in Rangoon. So we need to postpone campaigning in some townships,” said Saw Than Myint, whose party has put forward 38 candidates to contest the November poll.
However, the party chairman maintained that the 60-day campaign period was sufficient and also voiced acceptance of the requirement that candidates apply for pre-approval of public election-related events three days in advance.
He compared the current regulations favorably with those in 2010, where only one month of campaigning was permitted, with candidates required to apply seven days in advance of holding public events.
“I think candidates will prioritize campaigning in [ethnic] regions. The campaigns in Rangoon will take place only late in the campaign period since there is better transportation here compared to some other regions,” he said.
Tha Win, secretary of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)’s Rangoon Division branch, said it would take candidates around one week to start campaigning in earnest, as permission still had to be obtained from electoral subcommissions to hold public events.
“We posted an election signboard at our branch office advising candidates to begin their campaigning in each township,” he said.
Another independent candidate, Ye Myint Thein, who is contesting a regional Parliament seat in Shan State’s Kalaw constituency, said he received notification of his candidacy approval from the Union Election Commission on Monday. On Tuesday, he was preparing election pamphlets for publication.
“I’m contesting against the people’s party, the NLD, the ruling USDP party and the ethnic Danu party. All of them are strong opponents. But I was helping development in education, health and sports in Aungban Town for 30 years. Most residents know me,” he said.
But Ye Myint Thein expressed concern that he wouldn’t be able to reach out to each and every village in his constituency within the campaign period.
Major Parties Kick-Start Campaigns
While many parties and candidates were still preparing their campaign activities, in Mandalay, the incumbent USDP and its chief political rival in 2015, the NLD, both held respective processions involving hundreds of party members following different routes to the city’s famous Maha Muni Pagoda.
In each procession, the party paraphernalia was ubiquitous—the lion logo of the USDP and the NLD’s fighting peacock—and songs echoed from loudspeakers drumming up support.
“We will go around Mandalay city for three days, as per the instruction of the divisional election commission. We will also go to other cities and towns in Mandalay Division,” said Than Than Aye, one of the NLD’s campaign leaders.
Around 100 NLD members, many wearing red shirts emblazoned with pictures of the party’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the slogan “Vote NLD for Real Change,” joined the party’s campaign procession through Mandalay’s main bazaar towards the pagoda.
“We will not shout slogans or distribute anything to get the vote. We believe the voters will vote for NLD candidates for sure,” Than Than Aye said.
Before the USDP’s parade, in which members and supporters rode on motorcycles and in cars sporting party flags and pictures of party candidates, Ye Myint, Mandalay’s chief minister, told journalists that voters should chose the “right person” in each constituency in November.
“Voters are very well informed and have political awareness. They know who and which party is caring for their needs and for the region. Voters need to choose the right person who will take the task seriously,” Ye Myint said.
The chief minister will compete in Pyin Oo Lwin constituency, where much of the population is comprised of military families.
According to the Mandalay divisional election commission, there are 20 political parties registered to participate in Mandalay Division constituencies, fielding 398 candidates, including 95 and 93 from the USDP and the NLD respectively.
Meanwhile, NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi marked the opening day of campaigning with a video message posted on the party’s Facebook page calling on the international community to monitor the landmark poll.
“Please help us by observing what happens before the election, during the election and, crucially, after the election,” she said.
“This is the best contribution you can make to peace and progress in this country by ensuring that our people feel their will has been respected.”