By-Elections Stir Up Regional Controversy

By Lawi Weng 22 March 2017

RANGOON — By-elections around the country scheduled for April 1 have highlighted regional power imbalances and differences between the National League for Democracy (NLD) and local ethnic parties.

Nineteen seats are up for grabs nationwide: eight in Shan State; five in Rangoon; one each in Chin, Mon, Karenni and Arakan states; and one each in Pegu and Sagaing.

The NLD staged an election campaign in Mon State on March 21-22, where recent protests saw thousands of Mon locals in opposition to the Union government’s naming of a local bridge after independence hero Gen Aung San, ignoring the wishes of many in the local ethnic community.

An NLD candidate from Mon State’s Chaungzon Township says he is confident in a win.

“When I look at the faces of my supporters, I am sure that I will win,” he said, adding that he did not think the recent dispute would affect election results.

There are three other candidates, two from different Mon political parties and one from the Union Solidarity and Development Party. They are contesting a seat in the Lower House.

The region is ethnically divided: the northern part of Chaungzon Township is a majority ethnic Mon, while the south is a mixture of Burman and Mon people.

Nai Win Thut, a Chaungzon candidate from the All Mon Regional Democracy Party said the result could not be predicted at this point.

“It is a matter of balancing power in the region,” he said, adding that he expected to receive more Mon votes due to the ill will the NLD had stirred up during the bridge controversy.

He added that even local NLD members were unhappy because the NLD headquarters selected a different candidate than the one proposed by locals.

“They are divided within the NLD,” said Nai Win Htut.

But, locals say that ethnic Mon have divided the votes as well by putting forward two separate Mon candidates.

Some community leaders, including leading youth from the Mon Youth Forum, encouraged locals to consolidate the ethnic vote behind Nai Win Thut.