Myanmar’s Opposition Parties Ramp Up Facebook Ad Spending as Election Nears
By Nan Lwin 5 November 2020
YANGON—With Myanmar’s general election just four days away, opposition parties led by former military officers and a former ruling party stalwart, among others, are leading advertising spending on Facebook, Myanmar’s most popular social media platform with more than 22 million users across the country.
According to The Irrawaddy’s analysis of Facebook’s Ad Library, pages related to the military-aligned Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) spent a total of US$18,280 (23.48 million kyats) during the 90 days from Aug. 4-Nov. 2. The majority of posts promote the parties and their leaders’ activities among Myanmar Facebook users.
Among pages run by the USDP, the USDP Women’s Committee spent the most, at about $11,122, from Aug. 5 to Nov. 2 to publicize its election campaign promises and aggressively promote activities launched by the USDP. Facebook Ad Library’s report on Myanmar revealed that the USDP Women’s Committee advertised 87 times during that period, making it the second-largest spender among advertisers in Myanmar in the category of social issues, elections or politics.
The Irrawaddy found that the committee spent around $499 on an ad featuring a photo of former President U Thein Sein and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi that claimed that the previous USDP-led government paved the way for the NLD to participate in democratic reforms.
The USDP Youth Committee spent $4,338 on Facebook advertisements aimed at younger voters across the country with videos and photos, including speeches by U Than Htay, the party’s president, and various campaign promises, particularly to create more job opportunities for blue-collar workers, as well as to boost the economy and health care. The Irrawaddy’s analysis found that the committee advertised 45 times during that period. Each post aimed to reach about 1 million people and had 10,000 to 500,000 impressions among social media users in Myanmar.
Moreover, the USDP Farmers and Workers committees spent $344 and $239 respectively, mostly promoting the party’s promises to improve the lives of farmers and workers. Most of the money was spent on posts conveying the USDP’s promises to increase loans for farmers and to raise the minimum wage of workers.
The rest of the spending was for ads to promote USDP candidates from Dagon, Sanchaung and Pazundaung townships in Yangon Region, Pubbathiri Township in Naypyitaw and Shan State and to draw attention to USDP pages from Mon and Chin states and Tanintharyi, Bago, Magwe and Yangon regions.
Among the other parties, the People’s Pioneer Party (PPP) led by former NLD stalwart and jewelry businesswoman Daw Thet Thet Khine has been the second-most aggressive in vying for the attention of Facebook users in Myanmar. PPP-related pages spent a total of $7,327 from Aug. 4 to Nov. 2 to obtain followers and promote the party’s political and economic policies, as well as its activities, organizational structure and so on. The PPP official Facebook page spent $1,877 from Aug. 4 to Nov. 2 to get attention from Facebook users, especially by showing the party’s activities and posting Daw Thet Thet Khine’s statements relating to the upcoming election.
Daw Thet Thet Khine spent a total of $2,274 to boost her personal profile page. Most of the posts conveyed her messages to users, focusing on the PPP’s policies to improve the lives of citizens, its economic reform agenda and her views on politics, youth and ethnic affairs. The ads aimed to reach about 1 million people and had between 500,000 and 600,000 impressions.
The PPP’s Mayangone Township page spent $660 to attract more followers or be seen in the newsfeeds of people who live in Yangon. Daw Thet Thet Khine, who is currently the Lower House lawmaker for Dagon Township in Yangon, aims for her party to unseat the incumbent—National League for Democracy (NLD) Central Committee member and former political prisoner Daw May Win Myint—in Mayangone Township. Daw May Win Myint is also seeking reelection in Mayangone Township on Nov. 8.
Among the PPP-related pages, that of Kaung Minn Khant, who is contesting a Yangon regional parliament seat in Latha Township, spent the most on Facebook ads—$1,083—from Aug. 4 to Nov. 2. The rest of the spending by the PPP went toward gaining followers for PPP pages from various townships in the country and to promote candidates in Yangon.
The Union Betterment Party (UBP) and its related pages and candidates spent a total of $6,034 for ads on Facebook from Aug. 4 to Nov. 2. Led by retired General Thura U Shwe Mann, the UBP’s official Facebook page spent $4,816 on advertisements on Facebook from Aug. 4 to Nov. 2. The Irrawaddy’s analysis found that it advertised more than 110 times during that period. Most of the ads were to introduce the party’s promises, 2020 election manifestos and candidates.
Moreover, the official account of Thura U Shwe Mann spent $279 from Aug. 4 to Nov. 2. to attract more followers on Facebook and to publicize his promises. Each post aimed to reach 1 million users and 175,000-200,000 impressions.
Led by the 8888 Uprising student leaders, the People’s Party (PP) and its related pages representing various townships and candidates across the country spent $1,525 on ads to boost its policies and to get more followers on Facebook.
Candidates for the Mon Unity Party (MUP), a popular party from Mon State, spent a total of $2,165 to boost their profiles and policies. The MUP also spent $432 to promote its page among Facebook users. The MUP branch in Mawlamyine, the capital of Mon State, spent $229 on Facebook ads.
Among the Mon candidates, Dr. Hein Paing Htoo Chit spent the most on ads at $1,304 from Aug. 4 to Nov. 2 to promote his promises to the people. He is contesting a regional parliament seat in Mawlamyine Township.
The Kachin State People’s Party (KSPP), its youth wing and candidates spend a total of $844 to promote the party’s activities and candidates’ profiles.
The Chin National League for Democracy—the product of a merger between several ethnic Chin parties—its president and candidates spent $617 on Facebook ads. Founded by the former leaders of the student pro-democracy protests in 1988, the Democratic Party of a New Society (DPNS) and its candidates spent around $500 to promote their candidates on Facebook.
In contrast to these parties, the ruling NLD’s official page, the Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD) and other major ethnic parties based in Karen and Kayah states have yet to advertise on Facebook. However, seven NLD candidates from Yangon, Shan, Sagaing and Kayah spent $782 to boost their profiles among Facebook users. Moreover, the SNLD’s Tachileik and Mong Hsat township offices spent around $200 to promote their candidates and to draw more followers to their pages.
On Monday, the Union Election Commission (UEC) announced that campaign activities on social media including on Facebook and Twitter can only run through Nov 6.
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