Election 2020

For Myanmar's Former Ruling Party, Hopes Run High as General Election Nears

By San Yamin Aung 8 July 2020

YANGON—The ex-generals who founded Myanmar’s former ruling party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), are confident of winning enough seats in this year’s general election to secure the presidency and form a government. And if that happens, the party’s current chairman, ex-general U Than Htay, would become the country’s next President.

“We want to win. We will try our best to win votes from the public fairly,” party spokesperson Dr. Nanda Hla Myint said in an exclusive interview with The Irrawaddy.

Asked to assess the party’s chances in the upcoming election, he said, “We believe we will win a majority of seats and form the government.” And the presidency will be claimed by the party’s leader, U Than Htay, he added.

The USDP was formed in 2010 as a political vehicle for many of the leaders of the country’s former military regime to contest the general election that year. The party won more than 75 percent of the seats in a vote that was widely viewed as flawed. The current ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) and many ethnic parties boycotted the vote.

In the last general election in 2015, the USDP was defeated by the NLD and only managed to win a humiliating 10 percent of seats nationwide. The NLD won 77 percent of the parliamentary seats. Current USDP chairman U Than Htay, who served as minister of rail transport and minister of energy in the USDP government, contested a seat in the 2015 general election but lost to an NLD candidate.

A USDP campaign rally in Yangon ahead of the 2015 general election. / The Irrawaddy

Dr. Nanda Hla Myint said on Tuesday that after more than four years of NLD-led government, voters have seen enough to be able to compare the leadership of the USDP and the NLD.

He said that if the public gave the USDP a mandate to return to power, the party would be ready to serve the nation, including improving the economy, increasing people’s incomes, achieving peace and stability and establishing a federal democratic union.

The party’s top leaders and some ex-ministers who served in the USDP government are also planning to contest seats in the upcoming poll.

Among the USDP leaders planning to run in the election are U Than Htay; party vice chair and ex-general U Khin Yi, a former immigration and population minister; and Central Executive Committee member U Maung Myint, who formerly served as industry minister.

Renowned human rights lawyer U Thein Than Oo, however, said the USDP had no hope of winning enough seats to secure the presidency and form a government.

With 25 percent of seats in Parliament allocated to the unelected bloc of military-appointed lawmakers, the military proxy USDP would only need to win 26 percent of seats in the bicameral Union Parliament to be able to elect the President and form a government.

Yet, for lawyer U Thein Than Oo, that’s still too tall an order for the USDP.

USDP chairman U Than Htay attends a by-election campaign rally held during the NLD government’s term. / U Than Htay / Facebook

He said that despite adopting new leadership following its electoral defeat in 2015, the USDP is still widely seen as the face of the former military regime. He added that the party had failed to boost its image among the public over the past four years.

He expected the USDP would lose by an even greater margin this year than in 2015. “I actually think they might face an even worse loss, winning fewer than 10 percent [of seats, as it did in 2015] in the upcoming poll,” he said.

However, political analyst Dr. Yan Myo Thein was more upbeat about the USDP’s chances, saying the party could achieve a slightly better result in the upcoming poll than in 2015—though it still wouldn’t win enough seats to be able to form the government.

Lawyer U Thein Than Oo said that while the public was disappointed and frustrated by some of the NLD’s choices of cabinet members, the party is still likely to win a majority of the seats in the election.

“In the election, the public’s overwhelming support for [NLD chairwoman] Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will outweigh the dissatisfaction over the NLD’s underperforming cabinet members over the years,” the lawyer said.