RANGOON — With fewer than a dozen races left to declare, the full scale of the opposition victory in the Nov. 8 election has become clear, with the National League for Democracy (NLD) in possession of commanding majorities in all but a few of the nation’s legislatures.
Following the final Union Election Commission (UEC) announcement of results on Sunday afternoon, 1,139 of the election’s 1,150 races have now been called. Seven of those remaining—three Union and four regional seats—are located in the remote Kachin State townships of Khaunglanhpu and Nawngmun, where ballots from polling stations in outlying locales had to be transported by foot.
The UEC expects those seats, along with the results of the four outstanding Kachin ethnic affairs ministries, to be announced by Friday in state-run media outlets.
The State of Play
Across the board, the NLD have now claimed a total of 882 seats, more than 75 percent of all seats called. The results include 17 of the 25 ethnic affairs ministries declared so far. It has a majority of 38 seats in the Lower House and 23 seats in the Upper House.
Barring internal ructions within the party between now and March, or what seems to be now—despite pervasive fears from many quarters before the poll—the incredibly remote possibility of a military intervention, the NLD will determine the composition of the next government and the speakerships of both houses.
In Burma’s central heartland, the party is set to dominate all seven divisional parliaments after a result barely short of a clean sweep. The NLD has won 88 of 92 elected seats in Rangoon, 55 of 57 in Pegu, 69 of 76 in Sagaing, 49 of 57 in Mandalay and 53 of 56 in Irrawaddy, along with all 21 seats in Tenasserim and all 51 in Magwe. These figures exclude the constitutional allocation of 25 percent of all seats to military appointees, and include ethnic affairs ministers, who sit as ordinary parliamentarians in state and divisional legislatures.
The Art of Being Governed
The NLD is in possession of majorities in the parliaments of Mon, Karen and Karenni states, where ethnic political parties all fared poorly. In Mon, the party has 19 of the 23 elected and 31 total seats. In Karen, the party’s wins in all three ethnic affairs ministry contests has given the NLD 13 of 22 total seats. In Karenni, the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party’s (USDP) late clinch of the Burman ethnic affairs ministry gives the NLD a slender majority of two.*
Despite winning 12 of the 18 elected seats in Chin State, the NLD will be forced to negotiate for the chief ministry and future legislation with the Zomi Congress for Democracy, which unexpectedly beat the two established Chin parties to secure two state and four Union seats in the Nov. 8 poll.
Shan State is the only legislature where the USDP beat the NLD in the seat haul. With 14 state contests canceled due to ongoing conflict or non-state armed group control in those constituencies, 71 seats are needed for a parliamentary majority.
The USDP has 28 and the military is allocated 37, leaving that bloc six seats short. The NLD has won 23, while party ally the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) won 24, giving the pair a total of 47. The cornucopia of minor ethnic parties claiming the rest of the state seats will leave the NLD at a disadvantage when it comes time to cobble together a fractious majority, given lingering enmity and distrust between some of the larger players.
With 11 seats left to declare in Kachin State, the NLD currently has a plurality of 21, as against five USDP, 14 military, three Kachin State Democracy Party and one seat each for three other ethnic parties. The NLD would need to win seven of the eight remaining state seats for a bare majority, while six would leave a deadlocked chamber.
Finally, Arakan State, where the Arakan National Party (ANP) has decisively outperformed its ethnic counterparts across the country. With 22 of 47 total seats, the party has come within a whisker of securing control of the state parliament there.** The NLD won six seats in the state’s south, all in the three townships party leader Aung San Suu Kyi toured last month, along with both constituencies in the island township of Manaung. The USDP picked up one seat each in the border townships of Buthidaung and Maungdaw, and one at the site of the military’s Western Regional Command in Ann Township, where advance votes overwhelmingly favored former chief minister Maung Maung Ohn.
The Shape of Things to Come
Elsewhere, complaints about advance votes in seats home to regional military commands did not stop NLD candidates winning in the Lower House seats of Myitkyina and Taunggyi, though the USDP won both state seats in the latter. Vice President Dr. Sai Mauk Kham, despite trailing in the early count in Lashio, appears likely to have won his seat even without the help of advance ballots that overwhelmingly favored the USDP.
In all three Lower House contests, advance ballots arrived after polls opened on Nov. 8, making their inclusion in the final count contrary to election bylaws. In response to concerns raised over the ballots, UEC chairman Tin Aye floated the idea of doing away with advance voting completely at a Sunday press conference in Naypyidaw.
With the Constitution mandating the appointment of chief ministers from within the ranks of state and divisional legislatures, ANP chairman Aye Maung’s quest for the top job has been thwarted by his loss in Manaung. Nonetheless, the party offers a number of lessons for other ethnic political groupings. The merger of the Arakan League for Democracy and the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party in 2013 kept the ethnic vote in the state focused on one large political force, bolstered by Arakan’s recent history of communal violence and the segregation of its Muslim population in towns such as Sittwe.
At this late point in the game, it’s important to remember that the composition of state and divisional legislatures is relatively unimportant. The current constitutional framework gives regional governments very few powers, including budgeting, small-scale development, urban planning and some minor forms of taxation. Overwhelmingly, their spending is covered by allocations from Naypyidaw, and many issues that should fall under regional jurisdiction are referred upward to the Union Parliament and the government.
Where this may change is in the next stages of political dialogue between the new government and ethnic armed groups, formalized in the Oct. 15 “nationwide” ceasefire agreement, and future discussions between the NLD and ethnic political parties.
The insurgent groups have long pressed for federal reform—granting more power to regional governments to ensure local control of police forces, resource revenue-sharing and sovereignty over development plans, among other demands. As a starting measure, ethnic political parties have called for regional parliaments to take authority over the appointment of chief ministers from the president. A constitutional amendment to delegate this power was voted down in Naypyidaw earlier this year.
With the ANP shaping up as the dominant force in the next government in Arakan, a byzantine coalition to be formed in Shan and an outright majority in Kachin appearing unlikely, the three places where the NLD will not be firmly in control of state administrations also happen to be the three most restive areas of the country.
One is a simmering hotbed of communal tension, reportedly on the cusp of another mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims as the dry season begins. The other two remain sites of active conflict between the military and ethnic rebels, which in some areas has escalated in the week following the election.
The NLD has given in principle support to the idea of delegating powers away from the center, but it remains to be seen whether the prospect of ceding power to rival parties will temper whatever concessions the party presently feels it is willing to make.
The election may be over, but things are just starting to get interesting.
* Correction, 16/11/15, 4:20pm: this article was updated to reflect the fact that the appointment of a chief minister will not affect the balance of power in Karenni State. Unlike members of the executive at the Union level, chief ministers continue to sit in their respective parliaments after their appointment, as per Section 261 of the Constitution.
** An earlier version of this article said the ANP had secured control of the Arakan State parliament with 24 seats won.