Myanmar Labor, Farmer Activists Announce Run for Parliament

By Nyein Nyein 7 July 2020

Labor and farmers rights activists say they will run in the November election as independent candidates for both Union and regional parliament seats in 11 constituencies in Yangon Region, in a bid to raise their voices in the legislature and bring about change.

Myanmar will hold general elections on Nov. 8 with 97 registered political parties vying for a total of 1,171 parliamentary seats. Yangon has a total of 149 seats, 57 of them in the Union Parliament and the rest in the regional parliament.

The advocates-turned-political candidates come from a variety of farmer and labor advocacy groups and said they want to amend labor laws.

They will run in the industrial town of Hlaing Thar Yar as well as Htan Ta Pin and Kawhmu—the constituency where State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to Union Parliament in the 2012 by-election and the 2015 election.

Daw Su Su Nway, farmers’ rights activist and chairwoman of the Myanmar Farmers Union, said she will run for the Union Lower House seat in Kawhmu.

“I will contest in my hometown. I decided to become a candidate as I want to work not only for the farmers from my area but also for those across the nation whose land rights are being violated,” she told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

“We want to work on enacting laws that would benefit farmers and help farmers to get their land rights, so I ask you to put your trust in me,” she added.

U Htay, a lawyer who works to help laborers, plans to run for the Lower House seat for Hlaing Thar Yar Township. He said he wants to work on behalf of laborers and farmers and promote their rights.

He also acknowledged that as independent candidates, he and the other rights advocates would not be a big force for political change and said he was aware they would hold little sway in the parliaments.

“We intend to represent the voices of farmers and laborers in the Parliament and advocate for bills related to their causes,” he said. “We know that we, the independent candidates, alone cannot be the force for change. We can participate in the discussion, either giving support or objecting on behalf of the people.”

Labor and farmers’ rights activists-turned-election candidates. / Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy

U Maung Maung, the president of the Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar (CTUM), said political representation is critical for workers.

“We have to create our own voices to bring changes in the legislation. We must raise the issues to those who can represent us. We must vote for candidates who will represent us and we cannot just sit and not participate in the election,” he said.

He added that he and other advocates will focus on increasing voter turnout when the campaign starts.

Hlaing Thar Yar Township saw the lowest voter turnout in the 2015 general election, with only 36.7 percent of its 454,307 eligible voters casting ballots. Yangon had nearly 5 million (4,990,971) eligible voters in the last election and saw 65 percent of voters cast ballots.

U Maung Maung added that the candidates running in the three Yangon townships are all local residents and will mobilize their communities to vote and will explain to them why it is important to vote.

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