Elections in History

How Suu Kyi was Barred from Standing in Myanmar’s Election Three Decades Ago

By Wei Yan Aung 15 October 2020

Yangon — Although the National League for Democracy (NLD) won the 1990 general election, party leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was barred from standing.

Four months and eight days after the military regime – the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) – placed Daw Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest at 54 University Avenue in Yangon’s Bahan Township under the State Protection Act, the election commission announced the election day and the deadline for candidate registration.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi registered as a Lower House candidate for Bahan Township.

But candidates Labang Grawng and U Myint Than of the National Unity Party (NUP), the proxy of military dictator General Ne Win’s Burma Socialist Programme Party, filed a complaint with the township election commission about her application.

They said she did not meet eligibility criteria under Article 10 of Lower House Election Law due to her marriage to British academic Michael Aris.

Labang Grawng of the National Unity Party in a campaign leaflet for the 1990 election.

Article 10(e) bans anyone with allegiance or entitlement to privileges from a foreign power.

Ethnic Kachin Labang Grawng, then 73, was one of the Kachin representatives who signed the historic Panglong Agreement in Shan State in 1947 with General Aung San, father of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

He served as a Lower House lawmaker and in the Civil Service Selection and Training Department under Gen. Ne Win’s dictatorship.

The township election commission rejected the complaint against Daw Aung San Suu Kyi but the regional election commission accepted it. She, therefore, could not stand in the first multiparty election in 30 years.

There were reportedly serious disputes within the national-level election commission over the issue. Election Commission chairman, a retired financial commissioner U Ba Htay, and a commission member, retired Brigadier General Saw Kyar Doe, who was a friend of Gen. Aung San, opposed the complaint. But other commission members, like the former ambassador to Canada, U Kyaw Nyunt, retired pension and bond commissioner U San Maung and former Lower House lawmaker Sayar Chel accepted the complaint, according to the NLD.

Ninety-three parties contested the 1990 general election. The NLD, which was born out of the pro-democracy uprising in 1988, won 392 out of 485 constituencies while the NUP took just 10 seats.


Breaking its promise to return to the barracks and hand power to the election winners, the SLORC ignored the results, despite publishing them in the government gazette.

The then election commission chairman, U Ba Htay (left), and Senior General Saw Maung before the election in May 1990.

The military regime put Daw Aung San Suu Kyi under more than 14 years of house arrest over three separate periods.

The military government organized a general election in 2010 based on the 2008 Constitution that was widely criticized as undemocratic. The NLD boycotted the vote, saying it had no trust in any election organized by the military.

However, the party contested the 2012 by-elections, saying it would promote the rule of law, build peace and amend the 2008 Constitution.

The NLD won convincingly and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to represent Kawhmu Township in Yangon Region.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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