By-Elections Fail to Drum Up Public Enthusiasm

By Htun Htun 31 March 2017

KAWHMU, Rangoon Division — One day before nationwide by-elections, Kawhmu Township stands in stark contrast to the area in the days just before the 2015 general election.

State Counselor and de-facto leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi contested the 2015 election representing Kawhmu Township. People across Burma were eager to vote in what was believed to be the first free and fair election in the country in decades. But people have shown little interest in the April 1 by-elections.

As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) achieved a landslide victory in 2015 and won the majority of seats in both national and regional parliaments—except in the Arakan and Shan State parliaments—the winning of 19 seats in the by-election will have no impact on the NLD-dominated national legislature.

Left vacant by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Kawhmu Township is among the seats up for grabs in the Lower House. The constituency fields the largest number of candidates, with nine people contesting the by-election there.

The NLD, Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), Myanmar Farmers’ Development Party (Myanmar), Phalon-Sawaw Democratic Party, Democratic Party, Myanmar National Congress, National Development Party, and two independent candidates will contest in Kawhmu.

Dozens of locals interviewed by The Irrawaddy expressed little interest in the by-election, and many did not know who was running. They said since the result would have no impact on the Union government, they were not concerned.

“If I’m free that day, I’ll go and cast a vote. But if I am not, I won’t,” said Mann Aung Aung, a villager from Wa Thinkha village in Kawhmu Township.

The USDP has fielded U Kyaw Zin Hein, the same candidate who lost to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in the 2015 general election.

More than 70,000 people voted in the 2015 election in the region, and U Kyaw Zin Hein received some 10,000 votes or 21.5 percent of the ballot.

U Kyaw Swe Win, the NLD candidate, is a private teacher with a political background. His father won the Lower House seat for Kawhmu Township in the 1990 elections, the results of which the military regime refused to accept.

There are more than 90,000 eligible voters in Kawhmu Township.

Daw Thandar Aye, an NLD lawmaker in the Rangoon divisional parliament who campaigned during the by-election, believes the NLD will repeat its victory.

“Though we conducted fewer campaigns now [than in 2015], public support is encouraging. We’ll win,” she told The Irrawaddy.

The USDP is also campaigning in Kawhmu Township, and USDP chairman U Than Htay has appeared at least twice to campaign for his party.

However, other party candidates have done little to rally public support, and it is unlikely that an outside party will win.

In the 2012 by-election, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi won more than 85 percent of the votes, and in 2015, she won 76.7 percent.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.