Election 2020

In Myanmar, the NLD’s Main Rival Finds It Hard to Accept Electoral Defeat

By The Irrawaddy 12 November 2020

Results are still trickling in from Myanmar’s general election, which concluded Sunday. Though the country’s electoral body, the Union Election Commission (UEC), has yet to finalize the outcome, initial counts at polling stations reveal a clear winner: the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-led ruling National League for Democracy (NLD).

Enjoying huge popular support, the party has so far secured 399 of the 642 seats in the bicameral Parliament—far more than the 322 needed to form a government. The NLD is on its way to five more years in office. Upon learning of the result, the country seemed to erupt with elation.

Not everyone joined the celebration, however.

Humiliated at winning less than two dozen seats as of Wednesday, the country’s main opposition military-backed Union Solidarity and Development party (USDP) is finding it hard to concede defeat.

Largely made up of former generals, the party ruled Myanmar from 2011 to 2015, when it was defeated by the NLD in a general election. Due to its affiliation with the military, the USDP has rarely enjoyed popular support. After its departure from office five years ago, the party seemed to be gearing up for this election by introducing some reforms—silently vowing, no doubt, “We’ll be back.” However, witnessing another unshakeable victory by the NLD in this week’s election has surely been gut-wrenching for them.

The defeat was made even more bitter for the soldiers-turned-politicians when they learned that their alleged stronghold constituencies in the country’s capital, Naypyitaw, had been overrun by the NLD, except for one township where the USDP chairman managed to win. In Mandalay Region, where Myanmar’s second-biggest city Mandalay is located, the whole region—including areas that had gone to the USDP in previous elections—was a sea of NLD red.

Unable to grasp the new reality, USDP chairman U Than Htay on Tuesday cast doubt on the legitimacy of the results and said the party would mount a legal challenge to the NLD’s sweeping victory. The USDP claimed the vote was marred by electoral fraud, despite international polling observers like the Carter Center finding “no major irregularities” in the Sunday polls. Even the military acknowledged that the elections were conducted successfully.

Making matters worse, the party called on Wednesday for a rerun of the election “for a free, unbiased and disciplined vote.” The demand turned out to be the joke of the day on Myanmar’s favorite social media platform Facebook, where users recalled the USDP’s demand before the vote that it be delayed due to the danger to public health posed by COVID-19. In defeat, however, it was calling for a new election.

Casting around for a scapegoat, the party first accused the UEC of electoral mismanagement. Then on Wednesday, desperate party officials even said “some schoolteachers at polling stations were NLD supporters and were not neutral.” This drew the ire of the many teachers who had worked tirelessly at polling station during voting. When the Myanmar Teachers’ Federation demanded an apology, the USDP simply said “it was an error by a typist,” providing yet another “joke of the day” online.

The UEC has dismissed the USDP’s called for a new election, saying it would have no effect on its work. It said the election had been conducted successfully and widely accepted as credible. The NLD simply encouraged the USDP to go ahead with legal procedures “if they had enough evidence.”

U Ye Htut, who served as information minister for the previous USDP administration, wrote on his Facebook page that the party should focus its legal efforts on electoral disputes in specific areas where it has sufficient evidence to do so, rather than making its objections a nationwide issue.

He added that if the USDP tried to overturn the entire election, “people would see them as not being able to accept defeat. If that happens, they will lose not only votes but also their political integrity.”

For the time being, no one seems to be taking seriously the USDP’s denial of the election results or their call for new election. Most people are more interested in how many seats the NLD has secured and are and frustrated by the slow pace at which the UEC is publishing official results.

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