KAMAWEIK TOWN, Mon State — Sein Myat Maung is not swayed by the campaign stump speeches of Burma’s two major ethnic Mon parties seeking voters’ favor here.
That is partly because he’s firmly set on voting for the National League for Democracy (NLD), but also because he simply doesn’t understand the pitches being made by the Mon alternatives.
A resident of the predominantly ethnic Burman Shan Su quarter of Kamaweik for more than 50 years and himself a Burman, the Mon-language campaign rally held here by the Mon National Party (MNP) earlier this week was all Greek to the 66-year-old.
And while the MNP’s prospects in wider Mon and Karen states look good, Sein Myat Maung is unmoved by the overtures of the newcomer MNP or the All Mon Region Democracy Party (AMDP), which won 16 seats in Burma’s 2010 general election.
Intent on throwing his support behind the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, he has made sure that his name is correctly enumerated on the relevant eligible voter list, and has made arrangements to ensure that his son in South Korea will also be able to vote.
“I heard some news on Facebook that there are about 30,000 Burmese in Korea, but only 6,000 will cast their vote,” he said.
The NLD and MNP have been the dominant presences in Kamaweik to date, with the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) apparently concentrating its campaigning in rural villages, where it believes its chances at winning are greater.
Asked to prognosticate on the outcome of the Nov. 8 general election, Sein Myat Maung offers a meandering analysis that could arguably leave the listener more confused than cued in.
“Some say only if the NLD wins, then reform can be done,” he begins, sitting inside his small Internet shop in Kamaweik. “Some say we must vote for Mon. Some who are not intelligent will vote for Mon. Some who think only this party [NLD] can make changes will vote for the NLD. Some who don’t understand much say they will vote for whoever others think is good.”
And others still, he said, couldn’t care less.
“Some say it doesn’t mean anything to vote since they have to struggle for their living themselves.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Kamaweik was visited by the MNP, which was welcomed by about 100 supporters. The party’s three candidates running in the Mudon Township constituency joined party leaders in a procession around the town. Two columns of supporters on foot, motorbikes and four-wheeled vehicles were accompanied by a marching band, with the parade-goers not forgetting to pay their respects to the local abbot at the town monastery before getting down to business with the trio of candidates’ campaign speeches.
During public remarks in Kamaweik, Nai Tin Aung, a MNP central committee member, pointed out that among 92 parties in Burma, 18 were contesting in Mon State. Three of Mon State’s political party contestants are Mon parties with strikingly similar flags that prominently feature the Sheldrake, a golden rooster-like bird that is variously depicted in strutting, flying and standing poses.
“Our Mon National Party logo is the one with a white star and flying Sheldrake. Among the three Mon parties with different logos, those who love the Mon nationality must be clear which party really is the Mon party,” Nai Tin Aung told supporters.
This self-portrayal as the “real” Mon party is a framing that is likely playing out in towns and villages across Burma as several of the country’s other ethnic minority groups are asked this year to choose between two or more parties claiming to represent their interests.
Sheldrake vs. Peacock
On the same day down the road from Kamaweik, NLD patron Tin Oo met hundreds of supporters on the verdant lawn of the Strand Hotel in Moulmein, where the party held a rally to garner local support and introduce its candidates to the public. T-shirts, flags and stickers emblazoned with the party’s yellow fighting peacock on backdrops of red were out in full force as Tin Oo delivered an enthusiastically received speech heavy on references to the NLD as the only party capable of bringing real change to Burma.
Despite the large show of support for the NLD on display on Wednesday, it remains difficult to predict which way voters will break on Nov. 8. The AMDP’s success in the 2010 election affords it the advantage of incumbency in several races, while the NLD won the one seat open in the state in a 2012 by-election. Neither of those races was contested by the MNP, which nonetheless feels confident about its standing with voters as the reincarnation of a Mon party that won five seats in Burma’s abortive 1990 poll.